There are two interesting and very important questions before the Supreme Court this term relating to congressional representation. One case is about apportionment – the way in which the federal government allocates the 435 Congressional Districts to the states. The other is about redistricting – the way in which districts are drawn within and by states. As they are both complex issues this will be a two series blog, Part 1: Apportionment and Part 2: Gerrymandering. Apportionment is the process of allocating congressional districts after the decennial census. Gerrymandering is the manipulation of congressional districts within state boundaries for political advantage.
These are complex issues for the Supreme Court that float in a gray area between politics and clear-cut law. The issues may seem arcane to many, but they are of major consequence for the republic relating to representation, power, and resource allocation. Both issues are worthy of considerable citizen attention.
In Part 1: Apportionment, the Constitutional requirement was described to conduct a census every ten years from which the 435 Congressional Districts are reapportioned to the states. A further mandate that each of those districts have roughly the same numbers represented was also established. Beyond those broad goal posts the responsibility for creating the districts within states is left almost entirely to the states themselves.
Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution says, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature.” It further provides a regulating authority stating, “the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations.”
Placing the state legislatures in charge of creating districts within their borders makes the process a political one. As in all political activities advantage is sought by competing interested parties. An environment ripe for abuse is created.