The Battle over Partisan Gerrymandering

In June 2019, the Supreme Court decided in Rucho v. Common Cause that partisan gerrymandering claims raised “political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.” This does not end the fight around partisan gerrymandering. At the federal level, Congress has the ability to set rules for redistricting of, at least, Congressional districts.

In states like South Carolina where party and race and ethnicity highly correlate, federal court challenges to racial gerrymandering will continue. Pretending that race-based drawing is simply partisan-based drawing may or may not prevail.

Other avenues through the states also remain. Thirteen states prohibit partisan gerrymandering. Typically, those prohibitions result from citizen-led initiative ballot measures. State Supreme Court rulings like that in Pennsylvania in 2018 found that partisan gerrymandering violated state constitutional protections. Partisan redistricting has been on trial in North Carolina state courts recently. Lawsuits may entail explicit constitutional requirements like those in California and Florida

Many states have moved redistricting to more or less independent redistricting commissions. Many activists believe that more important than such commissions is adoption, whether constitutionally or through state law, of criteria that prohibit favoring or disfavoring parties or candidates. 

The battle over partisan gerrymandering did not end with Rucho. It moved more clearly to the states, including South Carolina, where much legislative activity was already underway. The outcome probably relies on how engaged voters become in demanding change.

John C. Ruoff, Ph.D.

The Ruoff Group

Dr. John Ruoff has been involved in redistricting since the mid-1980s. He has drawn and evaluated maps for every level of single-member districts in South Carolina, from boards of public works to the U.S. Congress, including the last three rounds of statewide redistricting. He has testified and consulted as an expert in redistricting and Voting Rights court cases.

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