Deven Kirschenbaum


A Turn to Process: Partisan Gerrymandering Post-Rucho

Deven Kirschenbaum

For nearly sixty years, litigants have challenged congressional and state redistricting maps, raising claims of partisan gerrymandering. Each time, the Supreme Court would hear and reject the challenge but continued to entertain the possibility that a claim of partisan gerrymandering could succeed. Then, in 2019, the Court in Rucho v. Common Cause took the dramatic step of holding that claims of partisan gerrymandering were nonjusticiable political questions. This both walked federal courts out of the picture and signaled the Court’s tacit approval of gerrymandering. The decision came down at a time when gerrymandering was at an all-time high—in 2020, only 7.5% of the seats in the House of Representatives were “competitive.” Now, despite clear attempts by lawmakers to subvert democracy through partisan gerrymandering, federal courts can no longer police district maps for partisan imbalance. Though some states have created independent redistricting commissions to draw district maps, these commissions are neither common enough nor strong enough to withstand political tendencies to gerrymander.

Time and time again, litigants and scholars have searched for (and failed to find) a substantive standard by which partisan gerrymandering claims might succeed. This Note offers a new approach, grounded in classic legal principles: process instead of substance. Identifying both normative reasons for why process can better protect against partisan gerrymandering and highlighting instances in certain states where bolstering and, crucially, enforcing the processes by which district maps are drawn has helped mitigate gerrymandering, this Note argues that states (and litigants) should turn to process-based arguments to counter gerrymandered maps. Through process, states can strengthen their redistricting procedures and commissions, allowing for the creation of more balanced, competitive maps. Democracy hinges on competitive elections, and we need solutions to the problem of partisan gerrymandering; this Note offers a new framing of the problem and a path forward.