Gerrymandering is the drawing of political boundaries to favor one racial or political group by splitting its rival’s voters across multiple districts or concentrating them in supermajority districts to minimize their electoral impact.
An old political tool, gerrymandering can be wielded with different motivations. After the 1965 Voting Rights Act, “affirmative gerrymandering” created majority-black districts to remedy generations of disenfranchisement and political suppression. Today, the dominant form is partisan gerrymandering, in which elected officials manipulate voting maps to advantage their own party. Courts most heavily scrutinize racially motivated gerrymandering, but the racial polarization of America’s major political parties largely erases the distinction between partisan and racial gerrymandering.
In June 2019, the Supreme Court nearly eliminated federal oversight in Rucho v. Common Cause. The five member conservative majority held that “partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.” In one case that the Court deemed beyond its reach, a North Carolina legislator admitted to drawing the state’s 2016 congressional map to elect Republicans. Republicans won 10 of 13 contested seats, even though Republicans received just 53 percent of the statewide vote. And while only 55% of North Carolina residents are white, nearly 85% of the winning candidates were white.
Justice Elena Kagan dissented in Rucho. “In the face of grievous harm to democratic governance and flagrant infringements on individuals’ rights,” she wrote, “the majority declares that it can do nothing.”