NEW YORK (FOX 5 NY) - For the second time in two years, the U.S. Supreme Court grappled with how to deal with gerrymandering that heavily favors one political party over the other. And the justices at oral argument appeared largely divided along ideological lines over whether courts even had the power to judge the issue at all.
Jerry Goldfeder, an election lawyer, told FOX 5 NY that is because it is a genuinely hard question. He said the justices would have to somehow decide whether a gerrymander is "so political that it's unconstitutional" when district maps are always political.
But two centuries after Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry endorsed a salamander-shaped district to favor his party in the 1812 elections, some states are taking the practice to extremes.
A Republican state representative from North Carolina, in referring to election maps now challenged at the Supreme Court, said on the record that he proposed drawing Congressional maps that gave the GOP a 10-to-3 advantage over Democrats because he couldn't figure out how to make it 11-to-2.
Yet when the Supreme Court considered the issue last year, Chief Justice John Roberts said it was the job of voters, not judges, to fix the problem. In 2017, he called the issues "as sociological gobbledygook."
Last June, Roberts ended up writing the court's unanimous compromise decision punting the case as then-Justice Anthony Kennedy stood between the court's four conservatives and four liberals.
Now Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a conservative, sits in Kennedy's seat. But at oral argument, he surprised onlookers with questions that suggested some sympathy with the liberals.
The justices' decision, which is expected by the end of June, will have a major impact on how congressional districts can be redrawn once the 2020 census data is collected and released.
Coincidentally, next month the justices are hearing arguments over the Trump administration's attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, which New York State and other challengers say could further distort congressional representation.