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High Court: States' Gerrymandering Cases a Work in Progress

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 25, 2018 4:10 PM

Ruling in two more gerrymandering cases in as many weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court left voting districts largely intact in Texas and North Carolina.

A majority of the justices prevailed in upholding all but one district in Texas, and they told a lower court to reconsider challenges in North Carolina. With two other cases last week, the High Court has decided more gerrymandering cases this term than it has in more than a decade.

So far, the count is largely in favor of leaving voting districts alone and deferring to the states.

Texas and North Carolina

In the Texas case, Abbott v. Perez, a 5-4 majority said that the state's congressional maps were not racially gerrymandered -- except for one.

"Except with respect to one Texas House district, we hold that the court below erred in effectively enjoining the use of the districting maps adopted by the Legislature in 2013," Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court.

The dissent, however, had much more to say. Justice Sonia Sotomayor literally wrote a longer opinion than the majority.

"The Court today goes out of its way to permit the State of Texas to use maps that the three-judge District Court unanimously found were adopted for the purpose of preserving the racial discrimination that tainted its previous maps," she wrote.

In the North Carolina case, Rucho v. Common Cause, the Court remanded with instructions to reconsider the decision in light of one of two decisions last week.

Wisconsin and Maryland

In that Wisconsin case, Gill v. Whitford, the Supreme Court vacated and remanded on standing grounds. But four justices, including Sotomayor, took the opportunity to rebuke politicians.

"The 2010 redistricting cycle produced some of the worst partisan gerrymanders on record," Justice Elena Kagan said. "The technology will only get better, so the 2020 cycle will only get worse."

In last week's Maryland case, the justices denied an injunction to stop pending elections based on gerrymandering claims in Beniske v. Lamone.

"The common thread in the court's gerrymandering decisions this term has been to generally make it harder for plaintiffs to bring these claims, and to generally allow states more flexibility and deference in drawing congressional and state district lines," said CNN legal analyst and University of Texas Law School professor Steve Vladeck.

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