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Vieth v. Jubelirer (Challenging political gerrymandering of congressional districts)

This case involves the question of whether the political gerrymandering of congressional districts to protect incumbents and to advantage one of the two major political parties is unconstitutional. In Davis v. Bandemer, 478 U.S. 109 (1986), the U.S. Supreme Court held that claims of political gerrymandering were “justiciable” and capable of judicial remediation. However, the court’s failure to articulate clear standards for the adjudication of “political gerrymandering” claims has allowed both Democratic and Republican parties to effectively manipulate district lines without effective judicial intervention and restraint. Results from the 2000 Census forced the State of Pennsylvania to reduce its delegation by two members, causing the State’s General Assembly to create a new districting plan.

At the time, the Republican Party controlled a majority of both state houses and held the Governor’s office, and Republican members of Pennsylvania’s House and Senate created the redistricting plan. Although registered Democrats in the State outnumber registered Republicans 54% to 46%, the districting plan was designed so that Democrats were likely to win only six of the State’s 19 congressional seats. In challenging the plan, the petitioners alleged that the plan was malapportioned and violated the one person-one vote requirement. They claimed that the new districts constituted gerrymandering and ignored all traditional redistricting criteria for the sake of partisan advantage, thus violating Article I and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. A three-judge panel of the District Court approved the plan and dismissed the gerrymandering claim. The petitioners appealed to the Supreme Court, and the ACLU and NYCLU participated in an amicus brief on their behalf.

On April 28, 2004, a divided Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision. Writing for himself and three other justices, Justice Scalia expressed the view that the gerrymandering claim was nonjusticiable because there were no judicially discernible and manageable standards for adjudicating such a claim. Justice Kennedy cast the deciding vote, but in his concurring opinion he would not “bar all future claims of injury from partisan gerrymander.” 

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