WASHINGTON — With the results in from the 2020 Census, states across the country are re-drawing their maps, as they do every ten years. This process prompts the typical complaints about partisan gerrymandering.
Our team Verifies whether explicitly partisan gerrymandering is allowed. The answer, which was solidified through a 2019 Supreme Court case, is yes.
Is explicitly partisan gerrymandering, meant to help one party, allowed under the constitution?
Yes. States have full control over the redistricting process, and the majority party is allowed to gerrymander in a partisan way. Lawmakers in some states have decided to create non-partisan commissions to do the redistricting process, but lawmakers in 33 states have left this power with the legislature.
- Todd Belt, Professor and Director of the Political Management Master’s Program, The George Washington University
- Capri Cafaro, Professor at American University; Former Senate Minority Leader in Ohio
- Nadia E. Brown, Professor of Government, Chair of the Women's And Gender Studies Program at The Georgetown University
- Brennan Center For Justice, "Gerrymandering Explained"
- "Rucho V. Common Cause", Supreme Court Case from 2019
WHAT WE KNOW:
On social media, there are complaints about partisan gerrymandering, coming from both sides of the political aisle.
Democrats have raised concerns over districts such as TX-02 in the Houston area, which stretches far to the northeast of Houston, while simultaneously picking up part of the city.
Gov. Larry Hogan took to Twitter to complain about the DOJ decision to sue Texas over their proposed Congressional map while looking the other way at blue states.
To Verify what's allowed, and what's not, we reached out to a trio of political experts from top D.C. universities.
Belt said that the term "gerrymandering" is named after Elbridge Gerry, a founding father, who served as vice president in the early 1800s.
"He wanted to become a member of the House," said Belt. "And he was able to draw a district that the reporters very quickly noticed looked a little bit like a salamander. So they called it a Gerry-Mander.”
Since then, the process has been replicated many times by both parties.
"Both Democrats and Republicans do this," said Nadia E. Brown. "And who really hurts is our American voters. Not political parties."
Capri Cafaro, who saw the redistricting process firsthand, while serving as Ohio's Sen. Minority leader a decade ago, agreed that both parties are guilty.
"Whether you're in deep-blue Illinois," she said. "Or a red state like Texas - you know - all parties in all states at some point over time have utilized partisan gerrymandering."
In 2019, the Supreme Court weighed in on this issue with their ruling in Rucho V. Common Cause. According to the Brennan Center For Justice, this ruling found that "gerrymandering for party advantage cannot be challenged in federal court."
This ruling leaves the process entirely in the hands of the states, which have very different approaches to re-districting. The vast majority, 33 states, leave the redistricting process in the hands of the state legislature, which opens the door for major partisan gerrymandering.
"Whatever party controls the state legislature," said Cafaro. "Is usually the party in charge of drawing and subsequently passing the new map."
However, some states have created non-partisan commissions, which attempt to redraw the lines in a less-partisan manner. This is not done in the majority of states.
The Voting Rights Act still protects against gerrymandering that is explicitly meant to discriminate against certain races, although this can be hard to prove.
"We know that a lot of the geographical areas that are heavily minority tend to be Democratic," said Belt. "And so it will be difficult to try and prove that this was done to disenfranchise racial minorities because they happen to be Democrats. Republicans can just say 'Oh, we were just doing it for partisan advantage,' and the Supreme Court has said this is okay."