A panel of federal judges in Michigan on Thursday unanimously struck down nearly 30 of the state’s U.S. House and state legislative districts as unconstitutional. Furthermore, the court ordered special early elections for several state-Senate seats—an unusual and aggressive remedy. It’s the latest in a string of rulings that show federal courts are more open to claims that partisan gerrymandering violates the U.S. Constitution, and more willing to employ strong measures to halt it.
It will be impossible to assess the full impact of the Michigan ruling until the U.S. Supreme Court issues its ruling on a pair of partisan-gerrymandering cases that it heard in March from Maryland and North Carolina. The high court has approached partisan-gerrymandering cases cautiously, punting a Wisconsin case back to a lower court to determine whether the plaintiffs had standing.
But while the justices hesitate, partisan gerrymandering has become a major issue in lower courts. Most of these cases spring from redistricting conducted after the 2010 census. That year, Republicans dominated state legislative elections, and using their new power drew maps that heavily favored GOP candidates. They were extremely effective. In 2018, for example, Republicans held on to majorities in the Michigan legislature despite Democrats winning the popular vote in legislative races. (Republicans note that Democrats also suffer from having their voters heavily concentrated in urban areas.)