Tuesday, August 28, 2018

US court rules that political gerrymandering is unconstitutional

In a landmark legal decision, a special group of three federal judges has ruled that the political boundaries within the state of North Carolina have been deliberately gerrymandered to the advantage of the Republican Party, and must be rectified, possibly before the upcoming November mid-terms. This comes after a similar case in Pennsylvania earlier this year which also ruled that Republican-gerrymandered districts needed to be rectified.
If you aren't sure, gerrymandering is the practice of rigging the boundaries of political jurisdictions in order to strengthen the electoral propects of particular political parties, a practice that goes back at least to the 18th century. American electoral districts are notoriously gerrymandered, but a couple of legal cases before this one, one in Wisconsin and one in Maryland, were both thrown out on technicalities before a decision could be made.
The North Carolina case is even more egregious than those, though, and one Republican member of the the North Carolina General Assembly is on public record as saying, when the state's electoral districts were redrawn in 2016, just before the Federal election: "I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats, so I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country ... I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats, because I do not believe it is possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats". Wow! It doesn't get much clearer than that.
As it turns out, North Carolina did indeed vote in exactly 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats in 2016, despite the Republicans only receiving 53% of the popular vote, providing an eye-popping example of just how effective - and how exact a science - gerrymandering is. The partisan map-drawing of this single state had a direct influence over granting Donald Trump a small majority in the House of Representatives. With the Supreme Court as a whole still with just 8 members, 4 Republicans and 4 Democrats, the lower court's ruling is unlikely to be overruled, and North Carolina's gerrymandering will need to be addressed before the November mid-term elections. As a result, the Democrats may have a much better chance of winning back the House this November.
I'm sure that both the Reublicans and the Democrats are guilty of gerrymandering in different states and at different times, just one example of how the victors can rewrite history. But this one case can hopefully help to redress the imbalance and the political machinations that go on behind the scenes of US elections, and it will almost certainly have wider national implications. Given that the USA is clearly not moving towards a system of proportional representation any time soon, that's probably the best we can hope for.

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