Sonia Sotomayor’s Simple, Devastating Question in Gill v. Whitford.
Throughout Tuesday’s oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, Justice Anthony Kennedy and the Supreme Court’s left-leaning justices grilled Wisconsin’s attorneys with tough questions that suggest a majority of the court is prepared to impose constitutional limits on political redistricting. The highlight of the hour came when Justice Sonia Sotomayor posed a very simple inquiry that cut to the core of the case: “Could you tell me what the value is to democracy from political gerrymandering? How does that help our system of government?”
Sotomayor’s question arrived after the justices had debated abstract principles of law (and math) for nearly half an hour. Kennedy and the liberals had already laid out their constitutional case against partisan gerrymandering: When Republicans draw district lines designed to dilute the power of Democratic votes, they are punishing Democratic voters for associating with, and expressing support for, the Democratic Party. (The same goes, naturally, for Democrats drawing district lines to dilute the power of Republican votes.) This viewpoint-based burden on the right to vote clearly infringes upon the freedom of expression and association protected by the First Amendment. Given that the First Amendment is the cornerstone of self-governance, political redistricting would seem to pose a grievous threat to representative democracy, entrenching undemocratic legislative majorities by penalizing voters who openly support the minority party.