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Political Scientist Carol Nackenoff on the Persistence of Partisan Gerrymandering

Carol Nackenoff

Richter Professor of Political Science Carol Nackenoff

On the final day of the term, the Supreme Court ruled that federal courts cannot hear cases involving challenges to partisan gerrymandering, in which a majority party draws state district lines to secure disproportionate representation. In a 5-4 decision, the court's conservative majority found in Rucho v. Common Cause and Lamone v. Benisek that gerrymandering "present[s] political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts," in the words of Chief Justice John Roberts.

According to Richter Professor of Political Science Carol Nackenoff, this decision leaves the issue of partisan gerrymandering to states – which most likely means a continuation of the problem. "Elected politicians who have benefited from expressly partisan gerrymandering are unlikely to want to fix the problem," she states.

"Reviving the political questions doctrine, Roberts’ majority opinion finishes the task Justice Antonin Scalia’s plurality opinion set out to resolve in the Pennsylvania case of Vieth v. Jubelirer,"  continues Nackenoff, referring to a 2004 ruling in which Scalia argued that the court should find all claims of political gerrymandering nonjusticiable, while Justice Anthony Kennedy concurred that though the specific claims in the case did not have a judicial solution, the court could find one to gerrymandering eventually.

"Kennedy, whose search for judicially manageable standards to identify egregious cases of partisan redistricting led to innovations, wasn’t there to prevent a majority from rejecting what Roberts considers 'statistical gobbledygook,'" says Nackenoff. "Arguments for equal protection and for associational rights both failed on Thursday as the impassioned dissent insisted the constitutional violation jeopardized the political process."

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