By Ryan Lovelace
October 3 2017
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy raised questions Tuesday about the Supreme Court’s ability to resolve a blockbuster political gerrymandering dispute.
Roberts expressed concern that any decision in Gill v. Whitford, a political gerrymandering case from Wisconsin, would “cause very serious harm to the decisions of the court in the eyes of this country.”
Roberts said if the challenge to Wisconsin’s voting map were allowed to proceed, many similar cases could come that could yield decisions that voters would view as motivated by the justices to help one political candidate.
Both Kennedy and Roberts appeared concerned about whether the court had any ability to hear Gill v. Whitford before making a decision about whether to create a standard about how to resolve political gerrymandering disputes. The court has never thrown out a politically gerrymandered district, as the Constitution does not explicitly say how districts should be drawn. Certain laws such as the Voting Rights Act require that districts be gerrymandered to ensure minority representation in Congress.
The challengers in Gill v. Whitford hope the Supreme Court will create some standard for addressing political gerrymandering and have suggested the standard rely on demonstrating that redistricting maps were drawn with a partisan motivation, fostered a large and lasting partisan effect, and appeared unjustified by other factors used to draw districts after the census every 10 years.
An earlier political gerrymandering case, Vieth v. Jubelirer, featured no majority opinion from the Supreme Court, resulting in a 4-4 split with Kennedy writing a concurrence to the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s controlling opinion that indicated that while Kennedy found no standard to resolve the issue then, it was possible that the high court could do so in the future.