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In Redistricting, Beauty is in the Eye of the Courts

Illinois' 4th Congressional District drawn during the 1990's decade of redistricting was ultimately upheld by courts against racial gerrymandering claims. The reason: it was necessary to avoid minority vote dilution in the Chicago area.
see:King v. State Board of Elections, 979 F. Supp. 619 (N.D. Ill. 1997), aff'd mem. 118 S. Ct. 877 (1998). and How To Draw Redistricting Plans That Will Stand Up in Court (Peter S. Wattson, 2011)

Preserving Local Political Subdivisions
Language aimed at minimizing the crossing of city, county, town, and other municipal boundaries is second only to contiguity requirements in state constitutions[9]. Local subdivisions are profoundly affected by the legislative and congressional boundaries they reside in. To promote unity within localities, states seek to minimize splitting subdivisions among several districts whenever possible. Redistricting plans that do split local subdivisions excessively are generally deemed inferior and in some cases, evidence of unconstitutional gerrymandering.[10]

Preserving Communities of Interest
Communities of interest is perhaps the least measurable and most subjective of court recognized traditional districting principles. At least 21 states expressly encourage in their constitutions or statutes; maintaining communities of interest when redrawing district lines.[11] There is no formal definition for the term except to say that it refers to readily identifiable communities of like-minded individuals. The Supreme Court refers to “communities that have some common thread of relevant interests.[12]” As a practical matter, this goal is usually subordinated to the previous three principles.

Protecting Incumbents and the Cores of Prior districts
Incumbency protection and the closely related objective of maintaining the cores of previous districts are considered an allowable political consideration by courts, but only on a cautionary basis.[13] The rationale is that incumbents made to run against each other in newly drawn districts – while unavoidable in some cases – is disruptive to the political process when done excessively. Preserving the inner cores of districts is also considered to be less disruptive to the voter inside of those districts.

These two principles are almost always subordinated to the previous principles and there is much disagreement on whether incumbents should be considered in the line drawing process. Moreover, there are various arguments against the preservation of a districting scheme that is inferior, gerrymandered, or otherwise objectionable. Thus, these two principles stand on the least firm ground both in practice and in the law.

Redistricting Often Confused with Reapportionment: Know the Difference

[9] Redistricting Law 2010, 107, National Conference of State Legislatures, Wash. D.C.(2010).

[10] Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 364 U.S. 339 (1960), (involving a tortured municipal boundary line drawn to exclude black voters).

[11] Redistricting Law 2010, 107, National Conference of State Legislatures, Wash. D.C.(2010).

[12] Miller v. Johnson, 515 U.S. 900 (1995).

[13] Abrams v. Johnson, 521 U.S. 74 (1997).

More Learning Articles

  • Standard redistricting principles can be a best practice or a an actual legal requirement.

  • All 50 states include at least one of these principles in their state constitution.
The Basics



Quarterly Wrap Up


What are Traditional Redistricting Principles?