Last October lawyers of the Supreme Court battled over the composition of the House of Representatives for the foreseeable future. Two cases address the extent to which a party in power is permitted to reshape its state’s districts to maximize that party’s partisan advantage. Yesterday a federal district court held that a North Carolina Redistricting plan violated the Constitution. The case joins cases from Wisconsin and Maryland which call into question whether the rule of law governing partisan gerrymandering needs to be revised.
Courts have previously decided that gerrymandering along racial lines is unconstitutional, and they have stated in principle that doing so along partisan lines is as well. Improved use of computer modeling provides legislators with more sophisticated ways to shape congressional districts. These models use the traditional rules to generate the optimum configuration within a state for the benefit of the party in power. The term, “efficiency gap,” has been employed to describe the inversion of representation in proportion to the voting population. We can expect to hear that term more in the coming years.
While partisan gerrymandering is banned in principle, courts have struggled to create a test that bars it effectively. This being Llaw, the wording of the test is decisive. The language of the rule affects the outcome of later cases, as lawyers and judges tinker with possible interpretations. Eventually the Supreme Court’s words will be read back to it, and the nine Justices, not necessarily the same nine, will have to interpret its interpretation.
Karl Llewellyn, a noted 20th century legal scholar, stated that the law is the way people resolve disputes. The statement itself is subject to interpretation. It is at once both self-explanatory and impenetrable. Indeed, in a given case, a dispute is adjudicated. But Law is a judicial tool used to set parameters for personal freedoms, culture, business and suffrage. The Law is more than a means of calling balls and strikes. Its a means of defining the strike zone.