Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Gerrymandering is at a tipping point. The courts are taking a harder line than ever before, saying some states have simply gone too far as they tried to give one political party an advantage. But if the Supreme Court doesn’t join the mounting legal backlash — and soon — there may be no limits on state parties’ ability to design their own political battlegrounds.

Why it matters: The outcome of these legal battles not only has the potential to upend the 2018 midterms, but also the more fundamental tools of politics and governance. If you’re trying to preserve a majority, gerrymandering works. The question is whether it works too well.

Where it stands: The dam has broken on partisan gerrymandering. After giving the states free rein for decades, federal courts recently struck down legislative maps in Wisconsin and North Carolina, drawing a constitutional line that had previously existed only in theory.

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court also ruled last week that the state’s Republican-led redistricting plan violated the state constitution.

  • “This is a very different moment, in the sense that you now have a number of federal courts striking these plans down,” said Richard Pildes, an NYU law professor who specializes in issues that affect the democratic process.
  • The momentum in lower courts has pushed the issue of partisan gerrymandering back to the Supreme Court. It heard oral arguments last year over Wisconsin’s gerrymandering and will hear a case this spring over one set of district lines in Maryland. A ruling against North Carolina’s partisan redistricting plan is also in the pipeline toward the high court.

What they’re saying: The legislatures that came up with these controversial district lines say this is all just part of the political process. That’s always been the Supreme Court’s position, too, at least in practice — and some of the court’s conservative justices seem inclined to keep it that way.

  • “You're taking these issues away from democracy and you're throwing them into the courts pursuant to … sociological gobbledygook,” Chief Justice John Roberts said during arguments in Wisconsin’s case.

The other side: Critics say Wisconsin and North Carolina are examples of just how aggressive and sophisticated gerrymandering has gotten. And they say waiting for a political solution is a Catch-22 — you can change the redistricting process by winning elections, but the redistricting process makes it almost impossible for you to win elections.

  • In Wisconsin, for example, Democrats won more than 50% of the vote in 2012, yet Republicans ended up with 60% of the state’s legislative seats.

How it could work: Academics have proposed a couple of tests the courts could apply to decide when a partisan gerrymander becomes unconstitutional.

  • One possibility would be to look for “partisan symmetry” — the idea being that if, for example, Republicans winning 55% of the vote gives them 70% of the seats in the state legislature, that’s OK as long as Democrats would also control 70% of the seats if they won 55% of the vote.
  • But that’s the “sociological gobbledygook” Roberts was worried about.

Why now: Republicans may be victims of their own success here. They dominated a majority of state governments after the 2010 census, when district lines had to be redrawn, and they maximized that advantage.

  • Roberts has said he’s worried that if the court starts striking down some states’ maps, it’ll have to litigate every redistricting plan in the country, and will be perceived as partisan.
  • The case from Maryland involves a Democratic-led gerrymander, and therefore might offer the court a way to tackle this issue without appearing to single out Republicans.

The impact: Even a limited ruling against Wisconsin, Maryland or (eventually) North Carolina would cross a new and unprecedented threshold.

On the other hand, the court’s past allowances that political gerrymandering could theoretically be unconstitutional may not matter if it can never identify an actual map that crosses the line.

The bottom line: This is a dispute the courts have tried to stay out of for years. “I think there might have been at some level some hope that other institutional solutions would emerge,” Pildes said. But it’ll be hard to stay neutral much longer.

Go deeper

Rep. Rice demands Cuomo resign after third woman accuses him of misconduct

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a February news conference in New York City. Photo: Seth Wenig/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) on Monday evening called for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to resign, after a third woman accused him of inappropriate behavior.

Driving the news: Anna Ruch told the New York Times Monday that Cuomo asked to kiss her at a New York City wedding reception in September 2019.

Scoop: Inside the GOP's plan to retake the House

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Republicans will reclaim their majority in 2022 by offering candidates who are women, minorities or veterans, a memo obtained by Axios says.

Why it matters: The document, drafted by a super PAC blessed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, names top Democrats to target — Jared Golden of Maine, Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania and Ron Kind of Wisconsin — and the type of Republican candidates to beat them.

57 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Trump talked out of early Ohio endorsement

Jane Timken at a 2017 Trump rally. Photo: Kyle Mazza/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Donald Trump had to be talked out of making an early endorsement in Ohio's 2022 U.S. Senate race, a sign of his eagerness to reengage politically, people familiar with the conversations tell Axios.

What we're hearing: The former president discussed endorsing former state GOP chair Jane Timken last week during a meeting at Mar-a-Lago with RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, but top advisers — including Donald Trump Jr. — urged him to wait.