The Supreme Court will take up the most important gerrymandering case in more than a decade, it announced Monday.
The case involves district lines in Wisconsin that challengers say were drawn unconstitutionally to benefit Republicans. The case could have a major impact on how district lines are drawn up nationwide.
The court has said that too much partisanship in map drawing is illegal, but it has never said how much is too much. Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law, told CNN that this case could have “enormous ramifications.”
“Although a majority of the court has suggested that states can violate the Constitution if they draw legislative districts primarily to benefit one political party, the justices have never been able to identify the specific point at which states cross the constitutional line. In this case, a lower court held that Wisconsin had indeed crossed that line,” he told CNN.
He continued: “If the justices agree, it would be the first time the court has articulated a constitutional rule in this context, which could — and likely would — have enormous ramifications nationwide.”
“This will be the biggest and most important election law case in decades. However the Court rules will affect elections for years to come,” Josh Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law who specializes in election law and voting rights, told CNN.
The case could have real, far-reaching ramifications for politics in our country. If partisan redistricting is declared unconstitutional, the make-up of Congress and the delegations for quite a few states, including Maryland, could be dramatically altered come 2022. And those districts would be altered in a real and substantial way, in a manner that the Democrats trash compact could only wish to accomplish. But the real question for Marylanders should be this; how far will the Supreme Court go in determining that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional at lower levels as well? If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiff, will they write their verdict in a way that affects state and local districts as well? The Supreme Court deciding upon legislative districts would not be unprecedented as in the decision of Reynolds v. Sims. However, that case was about state legislative districts to begin with, not about federal redistricting. A Supreme Court decision outlawing partisan redistricting across the board at both the federal and state level could completely upend legislative activity in this country.
Such a decision would certainly be a boon for Maryland, as Maryland would have Congressional and General Assembly districts more representative of the population instead of the jumbled partisan mess that we have right now. It might behoove Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly to follow Governor Larry Hogan’s lead and pass comprehensive redistricting reform now as opposed to waiting for the Supreme Court to institute it from above. But that would require leadership that Maryland’s Democrats just don’t have an admission of guilt to year after year of partisan gerrymandering for both state and federal districts.
This issue is coming to a head sooner rather than later. Will Maryland Democrats follow Governor Hogan’s leadership on this issue? Or are they prepared to let the Supreme Court make a decision for them?