From a political point of view — not that we’d ascribe that sort of thing to federal judges — the pair of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court is perfect.
The justices face two cases about political district lines, from Maryland and from North Carolina.
In Maryland, it was Democrats drawing lines to support their party. In North Carolina, it was Republicans.
Plaintiffs argued and lower courts often agreed that the “gerrymandering” of boundary lines for districts was so egregious as to constitute an infringement on voters’ constitutional rights.
That’s a mouthful. It’s also a very big issue to wrestle with for the justices.
We agree with Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who commented during oral arguments in the Maryland case, where he lives.
"I took some of your argument in the briefs and the amicus briefs to be that extreme partisan gerrymandering is a real problem for our democracy," Kavanaugh told the lawyers arguing the case, "and I'm not going to dispute that."
The question for Kavanaugh, the newest justice, and his more senior colleagues, is what to do about it.
In Louisiana, voters have every reason to agree with Kavanaugh that it’s a real problem when politicians draw the lines to favor themselves and their particular interests or parties instead of creating districts that are more compact and don’t split up cities or regions.
Unfortunately, fixing the problem at the political level is difficult. In the Legislature this year, a House committee scuttled a bill to create an advisory committee and to set standards for transparent and open deliberations on district lines.
Seats for the U.S. House and for state House and Senate, as well as other bodies, will have to be adjusted after the 2020 Census. If past is prologue, in Louisiana as in many other states, influential politicos will draw districts for themselves and their friends.
In most cases, in Louisiana’s Legislature, it’s not a case of parties, although partisan divisions are growing sharper in the State Capitol. There, it is more often senior members who draw lines to cut out precincts, massaging a district that favors the incumbent.
However, a real puzzle for Kavanaugh and his colleagues is what to do about it as a court judgment.
The most dramatic change in Louisiana’s politics for decades occurred in 1971 when the late Ed Steimel, then head of the Public Affairs Research Council, was appointed by a federal court to draw fairer lines for the Legislature. That made a huge difference. and perhaps that is the remedy that even conservatives like Kavanaugh can support.
Nevertheless, in these cases, the best response is for states to themselves adopt fairer systems, such as those in Iowa and a dozen or so others. Independent and nonpartisan district lines, like those drawn by Steimel, would be sent to the Legislature for up-or-down votes.
Louisiana does not have to be stuck in its political past, whether the nation’s high court acts on these cases or not.