As the Supreme Court begins its new term, it will consider argument on so called “partisan gerrymandering” in the case of Gill v Whitford. Most eyes will be on Justice Kennedy for any indication of where he is leaning in a case that could redefine the meaning of fairness in our elections.
Simply put, “partisan gerrymandering” is a rebrand of “race based gerrymandering.” Republicans are trying to find the magic words to suppress votes by people who are more likely to vote for Democrats.
The extreme element of the Republican party knows it can’t come right out and say to the courts that the vote should be limited to Republican white men. The Republican party’s sharp turn to the far right, alienated moderates which strengthened extremists. It also means the Republican Party is predominantly white and male, while the Democratic Party is more diverse in demographics – and in philosophy.
With this is still very much about race, Republican advocates of gerrymandering are hoping with the whiting of their party, they can pretend this is purely about partisan interests.
This brings us to why eyes will be on Justice Kennedy searching his questions, the tone of his voice and his facial expressions to figure out his position on partisan gerrymandering.
Back in May, the Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern made the following observation in this case in light of Kennedy’s vote with the majority in Cooper v Harris.
Alarmingly for voting rights advocates, Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the opinion in full, lodging no protest against the passages framing partisan gerrymandering as constitutionally permissible politics as usual.
That case struck down Republican efforts to gerrymander two districts in North Carolina on racial grounds. On its face, this was a good ruling. However, as Stern pointed out, that ruling couple with an earlier case, Easley v Cromartie left room for opponents of fair elections to argue that because their gerrymandering favors Republicans and merely coincidentally packs or weakens votes by black people who vote Democrat, it’s really partisan gerrymandering and therefore legal.
In reality, this is splitting hairs – something Republicans are adept at in the name of realizing their agenda. “Access” to healthcare exists, even if you can’t afford it. Tax cuts for the rich and tax increases for the poor really don’t benefit the rich. And gerrymandering that weakens the votes of black people who are likely to vote for Democrats, it really is just about gaining partisan advantage. The key thing is it’s still about weakening votes by black people.