‘Gerrymandering’ returns before US Supreme Court

Demonstrators gather outside The United States Supreme Court on October 3, 2017 to call for an end to partisan gerrymandering
AFP

Washington (AFP) – The US Supreme Court hears arguments on Wednesday, for the second time in recent months, on the practice of redrawing electoral districts’ boundaries to boost a political party’s chances in an election.

The tactic, known as “gerrymandering,” is a hot topic in the run-up to November’s midterm elections — with Republicans this time suing over Democrat redistricting in the state of Maryland.

In October, the justices heard arguments in a lawsuit on Republican gerrymandering in Wisconsin — but have yet to make a decision on that case. 

In the US, where Donald Trump was elected with fewer votes than his rival Hillary Clinton, redrawing the boundaries to benefit a particular party is common practice.

For years, the Supreme Court has been reluctant to get involved in gerrymandering cases — unsure of the criteria by which to judge them and fearing a deluge of electoral challenges.

But for the first time, it could set limits on the practice, named after 19th century Republican Elbridge Gerry, who redrew state senate election district boundaries in Massachusetts. The new limits were said to resemble a salamander, giving way to the second part of the term.

Constituency maps for state and federal elections are usually redesigned following the US Census, carried out once per decade. In most cases, lawmakers in each state set out the new boundaries.

The Trump administration has decided to add a question on citizenship to the next census, adding a new wrinkle to the issue.

California is challenging the change on grounds that it would discourage the state’s foreign residents from participating, thereby resulting in an undercount. The census figures, among other things, are used in setting up congressional districts.

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