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In 2017, the Supreme Court will take up the issue of partisan gerrymandering. Depending on how the court rules, its decisions could have far-reaching implications for the partisan balance in the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislatures — and for the future of redistricting across the country.
Gerrymandering has helped give the Republican Party a significant advantage in Congress. Because Republicans had unified control of twice as many states as Democrats when the last congressional district maps were drawn, estimates suggest that gerrymandering before the 2012 elections cost Democrats between 20 and 41 seats in the House.
Partisan gerrymandering has become the norm in U.S. politics because the Supreme Court has declined to declare it unconstitutional. For three decades, a majority of justices have failed to identify manageable standards to determine when a plan rises to the level of an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.
As a result, state legislators have come to believe that they can draw partisan gerrymanders so long as long as they satisfy two criteria: They do not violate one-person, one-vote standards and do not reduce the electoral fortunes of African Americans or other protected racial and ethnic groups. As a result, the 2010 round of redistricting saw partisan gerrymandering run amok in some states.
But change may be coming.