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The Supreme Court Is About to Make Rulings That Will Shape Elections for Years to Come

February 2, 2018 in Blogs

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

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Recent signals from the Court suggest extreme politics may step on voting rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court, dominated by a Republican-appointed majority, is poised to issue a series of voting rights rulings this spring that will set the stage for elections for years to come.

The majority of these cases involve gerrymandering—a process in which legislatures, in states with one-party rule, draw electoral districts to lock down their power after the once-a-decade U.S. Census. They do that by aggressively segregating reliable voters, typically “packing” their base into easily won seats; while “cracking” their opponent’s voters into multiple districts. Such mapmaking can give its author's party a starting-line advantage of 6 percent or more with likely voter turnout.

There are two kinds of gerrymandering cases before the Supreme Court. Both date to maps drawn in 2011. The first concerns race-based cracking and packing, which is illegal, but has been used by the GOP in Texas (where a case that’s been litigated for years will finally be heard) and in North Carolina (where the Court last year ruled against the GOP; but that was before Justice Neil Gorsuch was seated). The second category concerns excessive partisanship, which lower federal and state courts have found goes beyond politics-as-usual and is unconstitutional.

Voting rights advocates hope those federal and state rulings would give the Supreme Court some comfort in reining in excessive partisan gerrymanders. But recent signs suggest the opposite may be in the works. Predicting what the Court will do is dicey. But the worrisome signs are coming from a series of gerrymandering-based appeals that have landed on the Court’s door since December. The Court has added new cases and issued orders in others—recent moves that make advocates of more open elections nervous.

Those gerrymander butterflies come after an early January Supreme …read more


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