Jus­tices could en­ter ma­jor bat­tle over re­dis­trict­ing

San Francisco Chronicle - - NATION - By Mark Sher­man Mark Sher­man is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

WASH­ING­TON — In an era of deep par­ti­san di­vi­sion, the Supreme Court could soon de­cide whether the draw­ing of elec­toral dis­tricts can be too po­lit­i­cal.

A dis­pute over Wis­con­sin’s Repub­li­can-drawn bound­aries for the state Leg­is­la­ture of­fers Democrats some hope of cut­ting into GOP elec­toral ma­jori­ties across the United States. Elec­tion law ex­perts say the case is the best chance yet for the high court to put lim­its on what law­mak­ers may do to gain a par­ti­san ad­van­tage in cre­at­ing po­lit­i­cal district maps.

The jus­tices could say as early as Mon­day whether they will in­ter­vene.

The Con­sti­tu­tion re­quires states to redo their po­lit­i­cal maps to re­flect pop­u­la­tion changes iden­ti­fied in the on­cea-decade cen­sus. The is­sue of ger­ry­man­der­ing — cre­at­ing dis­tricts that of­ten are oddly shaped and with the aim of ben­e­fit­ing one party — is cen­turies old. The term comes from a Mas­sachusetts state Se­nate district that re­sem­bled a sala­man­der and was ap­proved in 1812 by Mas­sachusetts Gov. El­bridge Gerry.

Both par­ties have sought the largest par­ti­san edge when they con­trol re­dis­trict­ing. Yet Democrats are more sup­port­ive of hav­ing courts rein in ex­treme dis­trict­ing plans, mainly be­cause Repub­li­cans con­trol more leg­is­la­tures and drew dis­tricts af­ter the 2010 cen­sus that en­hanced their ad­van­tage in those states and in the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

In the Wis­con­sin case, a fed­eral court struck down the dis­tricts as un­con­sti­tu­tional in Novem­ber, find­ing they were drawn to un­fairly min­i­mize the in­flu­ence of Demo­cratic vot­ers.

The chal­lengers to the Wis­con­sin dis­tricts say it is an ex­treme ex­am­ple of re­dis­trict­ing that has led to ever-in­creas­ing po­lar­iza­tion in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics be­cause so few dis­tricts are gen­uinely com­pet­i­tive be­tween the par­ties. In these safe seats, in­cum­bents tend to be more con­cerned about pri­mary chal­lengers, so they try to ap­peal mostly to their party’s base.

“If the court is not will­ing to draw a line here, it would sug­gest the court is un­likely ever to feel com­fort­able set­ting a limit,” said Richard Pildes, an elec­tion law ex­pert at New York Univer­sity’s law school.

De­fend­ers of the Wis­con­sin plan ar­gue that the elec­tion re­sults it pro­duced are sim­i­lar to those un­der ear­lier court­drawn maps. They say judges should stay out of an in­her­ently po­lit­i­cal ex­er­cise.

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