Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that federal courts such as themselves, will not be allowed to decide on questions that could have serious political consequences.
For the case of gerrymandering, which was recently brought to the court, its legality is a question for elected government officials such as Congress or state heads and not federal courts.
But what is gerrymandering?
Gerrymandering is a strategy that has been used since the Revolutionary War in the US as a way for governing parties to cement themselves in power by drawing political maps that are tilted in their favor.
The main idea is to draw district boundaries so that as many seats as possible are likely to be won by one party or another.
This is done by “packing and cracking,” two commonly used practices regarding the drawing of such maps.
Packing is when a district is drawn to include as many opposing party voters as possible.
The result is that the surrounding district’s opposition strength is diluted, giving the illusion that most districts within the state belong to the governing party.
Cracking is basically the opposite. This method breaks up groups of opposing party voters among a few districts to make their numbers appear smaller in each district and giving the governing party winning numbers.
When these methods are effectively completed, a state’s map will have the greatest number of districts possible with just enough governing party voters to let them win.
In contrast, the opposition’s supporters will have only a few districts, in which they will have conquered entirely.
And while these methods have been used by just about every party since the idea’s conception in 1789, the question of whether or not they are legal or constitutional has been a reoccurring one, primarily for the losing party.
In this case, Democrats.
Currently, it seems that most gerrymandered maps belong to Republican held states. This is primarily because the 2010 elections gave the party great wins and much more control over state legislatures who oversee redistricting.
However, some Democrat states use gerrymandered maps as well, such as Maryland, Illinois, and even California.
In both Maryland and North Carolina, a Republican state, district courts threw out gerrymandered maps as unconstitutional, but they were appealed and so the cases came to sit before the Supreme Court.
Critics of gerrymandering say that the practice should be banned as it punishes voters for choosing sides.
The Supreme Court justices say that to correctly evaluate partisan gerrymandering, they would need to be given “clear, manageable, and politically neutral” standard by which they could judge it.
However, no one has been able to provide them with that.
It is noted that the court did not rule either in favor of or condemnation of gerrymandering but says that only Congress and the states have the power to decide on such an issue.
This gives individual states the right to decide if they should throw out political gerrymandered maps in favor of more accurate ones.
And, according to some states, this is easier than in others.
Pennsylvania, for instance, has already thrown out its gerrymandered district map according to its state constitution.
Experts also conclude that this ruling will likely lead to the task of map-drawing being taken from state politicians and handed over to independent redistricting commissions in future years.
Missouri, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, and Utah have already begun this process.