Back to the Drawing Board: Revisiting the Supreme Court’s Stance on Partisan Gerrymandering
By Robert Colton
In the United States, state legislatures have drawn voting districts to achieve desired election results for hundreds of years. Dating back to the James Madison presidency, various legislatures and iterations of the U.S. Supreme Court have wrestled with the legal and constitutional issues that stem from the practice known as “gerrymandering.” While courts and legislatures have, at times, been successful in eliminating some of the more sinister uses of the tactic, such as racially motivated district-line drawing, gerrymandering inspired by partisan motives remains. Continual improvements in technology coupled with an increasingly divided political culture mean that partisan gerrymandering is at risk of becoming more effective than ever. As a result, the voices of individuals with political ideologies opposing those of the sitting state legislatures risk being quieted to barely audible whispers. Until this year, however, the Supreme Court had contented itself to stand idly by, firmly refusing to wade into the legal and constitutional muck that is partisan gerrymandering.
This Note explores the uses and effects of partisan gerrymandering by modern state legislatures. It then delves into the contentious history of the partisan gerrymandering question at the Supreme Court level, with special focus on a concurring opinion by Justice Kennedy in which he proposed a solution for how to handle future partisan gerrymandering issues. This Note analyzes the validity of Justice Kennedy’s solution and ultimately concludes that his proposal has sound legal and practical support and would allow courts to hold unconstitutional efforts to gerrymander along political lines.