When you look at a map of gerrymandered congressional districts, they look strange, right? They look like a Rorschach test or a Jackson Pollock.
Bizarrely-shaped districts are a hallmark of gerrymandering, but the Supreme Court has made it clear that simply looking clean is not sufficient evidence against the presence of racial gerrymandering.
The Supreme Court has rejected a lower court ruling in favor of gerrymandered districts in Virginia and ordered the court to reconsider the case without considering the physical appearance of districts.
“An essential premise of” the lower court’s opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy explained on behalf of the Court, is that map is not an illegal racial gerrymander unless “there is an ‘actual conflict between traditional redistricting criteria and race that leads to the subordination of the former.’”
These traditional criteria include traits such as compactness and continuity, which the courts have historically used as proxies to sort good maps from bad. If a district is ugly and misshapen — if it stretches, like a salamander, throughout many distant parts of the state — then courts are more likely to deem it an unlawful gerrymander. If a state’s maps are neat and tidy, however, they are more likely to survive.
But, as Kennedy explains, compliance with these traditional criteria is not, in and of itself, sufficient reason to declare a map lawful.
They say you learn something new every day. I learned that literally drawing a district using clean angles has been used as evidence in the past that there's no gerrymandering to be seen. No wonder this country is so fucked.