WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Wednesday sidestepped a dispute over politics in boundary drawing, affirming a Republican victory in a redistricting (search) dispute from Georgia.
A federal panel had ruled that state legislative boundaries drawn by a Democratic-controlled legislature packed too many people in some districts and too few in others. While the high court affirmed that decision by a vote of 8-1, Justice Antonin Scalia (search) wrote a dissent that it was not clear the ruling was correct.
"A substantial case can be made that Georgia's redistricting plan did comply with the Constitution," he wrote. "Ferreting out political motives in minute population deviations seems to me more likely to encourage politically motivated litigation than to vindicate political rights."
Georgia officials argued that under the standard spelled out by the lower court, every state's legislative boundary plan could be struck down.
"The district court waded deep into the forbidden political waters by creating a new one-person, one-vote type of claim, one that is inconsistent with this court's precedents going back over three decades," justices were told by David Walbert, the attorney for Georgia.
Frank Strickland, the lawyer for voters who challenged the boundaries, said states should not have "the unfettered discretion to use voters as pawns in a regional and political game and thereby deny those voters equal protection."
Stevens, writing for the two, said that Georgia "invites us to weaken the one-person, one-vote standard by creating a safe harbor for population deviations of less than 10 percent, within which districting decisions could be made for any reason whatsoever. The court properly rejects that invitation."
Under the Constitution, states must adjust their congressional district lines every 10 years to account for population shifts.
The subject of partisanship in redistricting has been a difficult one at the Supreme Court.
In April, Scalia and three other court conservatives said courts should not entertain legal attacks on gerrymandering, the practice of drawing voting districts to favor a political party.
But a majority of the justices contend that a case can be made, although limited, that partisan redistricting can be unconstitutional.
On Wednesday Stevens referred to the April decision, which upheld Pennsylvania's congressional boundaries while leaving a narrow opening for challenges claiming party politics overly influenced election maps.
"I remain convinced that in time the present 'failure of judicial will' will be replaced by stern condemnation of partisan gerrymandering that does not even pretend to be justified by neutral principles," he wrote.