SCOTUS decision to take up gerrymandering case draws applause, but wait

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear a case (Gill v. Whitford) challenging the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering should be a hopeful signal to everyone—well, except hardline, win-at-all-cost partisans.

Unfortunately but predictably, I’m finding some short-sighted takes on this news. “Democrats should be cautiously very happy with this,” gushes The Fix’s Aaron Blake.

In The Atlantic, Vann Newkirk’s slightly steadier hand warns that the Court will not have decided whether there is merit to hear the case until after a hearing.

The more stridently left-wing Think Progress engages in a bit of breathless pleading for Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy to stay on the Court “just a little longer” to avoid, as they would describe it, decades of doom.

Writing in Western Journalism, Randy DeSoto flips the perspective to argue the same point but sympathetic to the GOP: “[T]he Republicans have more at stake” with this case, even though there is a case against Democrats in Maryland participating in the same thing.

Granted, it was the GOP that recently got good at drawing lines for their advantage, and capitalized on that edge. We don’t have to look anywhere outside Tennessee to find this out. The current supermajorities in both House and Senate are not exclusively indebted to the 2011 redistricting, but it can’t have hurt. And it’s likely we haven’t reached the end of how it will play out. The Tennessee Democratic Party is clearly squeezed into narrower confines.

But a focus on that is missing the larger point. There is no convincing me that any other party, given the opportunity, would not do the same thing. That is why this is an important case.

David Savage quotes Trevor Potter, former Republican chair of the Federal Election Commission, in the Los Angeles Times:

“The threat of partisan gerrymandering isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue. It’s an issue for all American voters,” he said. “We’re confident that when the justices see how pervasive and damaging this practice has become, the Supreme Court will adopt a clear legal standard that will ensure our democracy functions as it should.”

The Texas state legislature faces multiple legal challenges to its district maps, for racial gerrymandering in addition to the partisan flavor. The rich tapestry of interlocking issues could explain the Dallas Morning Newsanalytical approach to reporting on Monday’s announcement. To my eye, Jamie Lovegrove’s piece carefully treads among the facts about which party has current complaints, without giving in to angst or defensiveness on any side.

Bottom line: The benefit from the reform that’s needed is not for the party that is currently on the outs. Voters need protection from being “cracked” and “packed” into districts by partisan puppeteers. I’m fully aware that there is no ideally “pure” way to do this: an independent redistricting commission would inevitably be chosen and staffed by political people. But it can get better than it is.

And instead of cheering the news, Democrats should soberly reflect on the fact that a partisan gerrymandering ban would also apply to them, when the pendulum swings their way.

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