Gerrymandering: High court has a chance to fix political mapping
A blockbuster term of the newly configured U.S. Supreme Court kicks off this week and several big cases are on the docket.
The justices spent their last term with just eight members and often split 4-4 on decisions. Now Justice Neil Gorsuch has been seated, creating a 5-4 conservative majority.
The cases the court has agreed to hear include a broad range of topics that will affect many Americans for decades to come.
The court will decide the extent of religious liberties in a case of a cake shop owner who refused to do business for a gay couple because of his religious objections. Justices will hear immigration reform cases and review President Trump's latest travel ban.
The court will also decide whether investigators need to obtain a warrant for cell tower data to track and reconstruct location and movements of cell phone users over extended periods of time. They will decide if the feds can prevent states from having legal sports betting. And they will weigh in on whether unions can require non-members to pay union dues.
While the decisions in all those cases carry immense repercussions, there is one case that will go to the very heart of democracy.
The justices will look at the way state legislatures, after every 10-year census, redraw political boundaries.
When lawmakers go to great extents to rig the new maps to their favor — gerrymandering — it runs counter to the fundamentals of our system of representative governance.
The court will consider a case from Wisconsin, where in 2010 Republicans won control of the state and set about redrawing districts in a highly partisan and secretive way using a host of sophisticated data on voters.
The gerrymandering worked wonders for them. Even though only 48 percent of the votes cast in the 2012 election were for Republicans, the rigged map handed 60 of the state's 99 legislative seats to Republican candidates. A majority of residents in the state voted Democrat, but Democrat candidates only got 39 seats.
While Republican operatives and lawmakers were the latest to take gerrymandering to new heights in many states following the 2010 Census, the abuses of redistricting is not a partisan issue. Either party that wins a majority in a legislature can abuse the system to protect their party for a decade or more to come.
That's why former president Barack Obama and former Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have filed briefs in support of the challengers to Wisconsin's mapping.
Abuses of redistricting have been assailed by both parties for most of our country's history.
The best, although imperfect solution, to gerrymandering is to turn redistricting duties over to independent bipartisan commissions in each state that would draw new maps.
Hopefully the high court will take the opportunity to put a stop to egregious map rigging and all the damage it does to our democratic system.