Wrapping Up the Summer

redistricting timeline

As my final blog post, I wanted to share sort of a brief recap of what my summer work was. Mainly, it was a lot of reading—sifting through different court cases and establishing a legal timeline for what policies changed when and how partisan gerrymandering evolved into a different entity than racial gerrymandering.

In a nutshell, the Supreme Court first decided to hear cases dealing with apportionment in Baker v. Carr. This case opened the doorway to different kinds of questions appellants could ask the judicial branch of the United States where the law was not necessarily so clear. It wasn’t until later in Reynolds v. Sims where the Supreme Court ruled that districts should be apportioned by equal population. This enforced the “one person, one vote” doctrine, as this would mathematically ensure that no vote in one district was more important, or weighed more, than someone else’s vote in another district. This case also used the Equal Protection Clause under the 14th amendment as the legal basis for equal apportionment. the goal was to make sure everyone’s voice was equally effective.

Now, if everyone’s voice should be equally effective, should race be a factor? In a case called Gomillion v. Lightfoot, African Americans were boxed out of their own city after it redistricted the outer areas outside of the city’s boundaries. This denied African Americans the right to their municipal vote, which resulted in a violation of their equal protection. From this, race was thought to be a factor in that a person could not be excluded from voting, simply because of their race.

In a later court case, Shaw v. Reno, North Carolina had to apportion an additional seat due to an influx of people— in the early 1990s, Charlotte was predicted to be the next New York City, the Big BBQ as they called it. The state legislature created districts that were minority-majority meaning that they essentially isolated the racial minorities of the population and apportioned them into districts solely because of race. The Supreme Court struck these districts down, claiming that while race may be a factor, it may not be the only factor.

So that begs the question, what counts as a minority? Can partisanship be discriminatory, and would those discriminations fall under the Equal Protection Clause? Well, Davis v. Bandemer answered that question—I mean, sort of. The Supreme Court took the case, which inadvertently meant that this was a question the Court could answer, meaning that it wasn’t too much of a political question that the Court would not take it.

This stance was later obfuscated in later rulings like LULAC v. Perry, where the Texas state legislature redistricted for partisan reasons while simultaneously diluting the Latino vote. The Supreme Court ruled that these districts were in violation of the VRA, an act that protected minorities from having their votes diluted or cast out, and did not violate anything constitutionally on the grounds of partisanship. Cases like this make partisanship gerrymandering a grey area compared to racial gerrymandering. I hope to take a deeper look into Pennsylvania and Texas rulings to see how both states frame gerrymandering within their courts. That will be the focus of my work in the fall.