Justice Kennedy On Hot Seat In Major Voting Rights Case
- Joanna Estrada
But Justice Anthony Kennedy just leaned back in his leather chair and smiled.
Plaintiffs, however, countered there is no flawless time to fight gerrymandering in world of two-year election cycles, and with two more elections scheduled under the current maps, it's a journey worth starting now.
Republicans now represent 13 of 18 congressional districts in Pennsylvania, despite winning about half the statewide votes in the past three elections.
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The question? Whether there is a point at which manipulation of voting districts for the goal of favoring one political party over another goes so far that it denies constitutional rights of voters, and if so, whether the courts can then reasonably intervene to correct that problem.
"You are the only institution in the United States. that can solve this problem", Smith added.
Partisan Gerrymandering - in a case to determine whether politicians, by drawing legislative districts along partisan lines, should essentially continue to be allowed to choose their voters, rather than the other way around. Liberal justices have found it unconstitutional; conservatives have said it's the legislature's prerogative.
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Justice Neil Gorsuch said the lack of a clear formula for how to avoid potential partisan gerrymandering lawsuits when drawing political maps "doesn't seem fair to the states". The idea is to get the losing party to "waste" votes by having as many of their voters as possible congregated in a district without having enough votes to win the election.
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A federal three-judge panel ruled 2-1 last November that Wisconsin's redistricting plan violated the Constitution's First Amendment right to freedom of expression and association and 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law because of the extent to which it marginalized Democratic voters.
If the justices agree and invalidate the maps, it could affect about one-third of all districts drawn for Congress and state legislatures.
A similar case is brewing in Maryland, but it was brought by Republicans.
"The court recognizes that these are justicable claims, but the court is going to issue an order at some point and when that order comes out, at that time we'll comment on the order, but not before", Gersch said. In fact, a Supreme Court nominee was rejected in 1987 simply because he had previously used marijuana.
The name comes from Elbridge Gerry, a founding father, the fifth vice president of the United States, and the governor of MA, who signed a bill that created the first curiously misshapen district in the state designed to elect Democratic-Republicans over Federalists in 1812.
A registered Democrat, retired University of Wisconsin Law School professor William Whitford, sued, claiming his vote as a Democrat didn't count as much as a vote by a Republican because the district lines watered down his party's power. Roberts dismissed the statistical measures of gerrymandering devised by lower court judges as a "sociological gobbledygook".
But if each district were 60 percent GOP to 40 percent Democrat, you'd likely get more moderate Republicans, who might be willing to compromise and give Democrats some of what they want. They also argue it's not the job of the courts to write district lines, arguing that the challengers don't have the legal right to be in court and that the justices should decline to decide the issue and instead leave it to the political branches to decide. But when the map is tested by an electorate that leans Democratic, its special features kick in, maintaining a healthy Republican majority against the popular headwind. "So it's going to be a problem here across the board", the chief justice said.
The Justices over the summer took a series of separate, and temporary steps, dealing with current questions about enforcing the March 6 order while awaiting the Supreme Court's planned review in their new term of the legality of that order.
"Is this the time for us to jump into this?" he wondered.
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