How gerrymandering became one of the biggest issues in politics

Supreme Court debating gerrymandering


Supreme Court debating gerrymandering

Mar 26, 2019 04:36 buttons/button-playertray-rightbuttons/button-playertray-right

As the 2020 Democratic primary takes shape, progressives across the country are once again taking aim at gerrymandering, the process by which state legislatures draw congressional maps to benefit one party over the other.

On Tuesday, for the second time in two years, the Supreme Court heard arguments about limiting the practice. The last time the high court considered gerrymandering, the justices declined to rule on the merits. And given the court’s conservative lean, they could do so again in this most recent case, which involves House district maps drawn by state legislatures in Maryland and North Carolina.

The hope among those challenging gerrymandering is that these district maps were drawn in such a partisan manner that they violate the Constitution. And while liberals have taken the lead in challenging gerrymandering in recent years, the Maryland map was drawn up by Democrats, who also had partisan aims.

Former Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley in a 2017 deposition, admitted his party’s goal in its 2011 redistricting efforts was to make a GOP-held district in Maryland much more favorable to Democrats. In a 2018 USA Today op ed, O’Malley explained that 2010 had been a terrible year for Democrats, who helplessly watched “Republican governors carve Democratic voters into irrelevance in state after state in order to help elect lopsided Republican congressional delegations.”

O’Malley said he saw it as his duty to “provide some check” against GOP governors by drawing a Democrat-friendly map. His effort was successful, and John Delaney won the seat from longtime GOP congressman Roscoe Bartlett in 2012. Delaney is now a Democratic candidate for president.

But by 2018, O’Malley regretted the move and said he hoped the high court would ban partisan redistricting.

The current governors of North Carolina and Maryland, Democrat Roy Cooper and Republican Larry Hogan, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post earlier this week arguing that the Supreme Court should “end gerrymandering once and for all.” Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat running for president, has made anti-gerrymandering efforts a central plank of his platform.

But ending gerrymandering might not be that easy, in part because both parties occasionally benefit from the process.

What is gerrymandering?

The word “gerrymandering” dates back to the early 19th century. The name comes from Elbridge Gerry, a Massachusetts governor who signed a redistricting bill that benefited his Democratic-Republican Party against the Federalists. One of the new districts was said to resemble a salamander,…

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