Supreme Court justices clashed on Tuesday over whether courts should curb the long-standing U.S. political practice of drawing electoral maps to entrench one party in power, with conservative Anthony Kennedy likely to cast the deciding vote.
The nine justices heard an hour of arguments in the major voting rights case out of Wisconsin involving the practice known as partisan gerrymandering. Their ruling, due by June, could have an impact on U.S. elections for decades by setting standards for when electoral districts are laid out with such extreme partisan aims that they deprive voters of their constitutional rights.
Kennedy, who sometimes sides with the court’s liberal justices in big rulings, did not definitively tip his hand on how he would rule but posed tough questions to Wisconsin’s lawyers that signaled his aversion to electoral districts drawn to give one party a lopsided advantage in elections.
Liberal justices voiced sympathy for the Democratic voters who challenged the Republican-drawn legislative map in Wisconsin as a violation of their constitutional rights. Conservative justices expressed doubt about whether courts should intervene in such highly political disputes, and questioned the challengers’ legal standing to bring the case. The court has a 5-4 conservative majority.
Gerrymandering, a practice that began two centuries ago, involves manipulating boundaries of legislative districts to benefit one party and diminish another.