This case arose from the redistricting of Pennsylvania’s 19 Congressional districts following the 2000 census. One party controlled both houses of the state legislature and the governorship, and used its power to essentially guarantee itself a majority of the Congressional seats for the rest of the decade-even if it did not win a majority of the votes.
Political gerrymandering claims are not justiciable.
After the 2000 census reduced the size of the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation by two members, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a redistricting plan that essentially guaranteed itself a majority of the Congressional seats for the rest of the decade, even if it did not win a majority of the votes. Several members of the Democratic party sued in federal court, arguing that the “meandering and irregular” districts created by the plan “ignored all traditional redistricting criteria, including the preservation of local government boundaries, solely for the sake of partisan advantage,” thereby violating the Equal Protection Clause.
Are political gerrymandering claims justiciable?
No, political gerrymandering claims are not justiciable because there is no appropriate judicial solution.
In evaluating specific political gerrymandering claims, I would ask whether the legislature allowed partisan considerations to dominate and control the lines drawn, forsaking all neutral principles. If no neutral criterion could be identified to justify the lines drawn, making the only possible explanation for a distract’s bizarre shape a naked desire to increase partisan strength, then no rational basis exists to save the district from an equal protection challenge.
For a claim based on a specific single-member district, I would require the plaintiff to make out a prima facie case with five elements. First, the resident plaintiff would identify a cohesive political group to which he belonged. Second, a plaintiff would need to show that the district of his residence paid little or no heed to those traditional districting principles whose disregard can be shown straightforwardly: contiguity, compactness, respect for political subdivisions, and conformity with geographic features like rivers and mountains. Third, the plaintiff would need to establish specific correlations between the district’s deviations from traditional districting principles and the distribution of the population of his group. Fourth, a plaintiff would need to present the court with a hypothetical district including his residence, one in which the proportion of the plaintiff’s group was lower or higher and which at the same time deviated less from traditional districting principles than the actual district. Fifth, the plaintiff would have to show that the defendants acted intentionally to manipulate the shape of the district in order to pack or crack his group.
The legislature’s use of political boundary drawing considerations does not violate the Equal Protection Clause unless there has been an unjustified use of political factors to entrench a minority in power.
The fact that no adequate standard has emerged in this case should not be taken to prove that none will emerge in the future. Where important rights are involved, the impossibility of full analytical satisfaction is reason to err on the side of caution.
The Court declined to affirm the standard proposed in Davis v. Bandemer because it is unworkable, as evidenced by its treatment in lower courts. The Court also rejected the standard suggested by the Plaintiffs because it is essentially a totality-of-the-circumstances analysis, where all conceivable factors, none of which is dispositive, are weighed with an eye to ascertain whether the particular gerrymander has gone too fair.
The Court went on to write that the mere fact that four dissenters came up with three different standards–all of them different from the two proposed in Davis v. Bandemer and the one proposed by the Plaintiffs–goes a long way to establish that there is no constitutionally discernible standard.