Gerrymandering—the intentional manipulation of legislative boundaries for political advantage—is a venerable practice. Why, then, some might wonder, should we pay greater attention to it at this time? In particular, should judicial inquiry into constitutional issues of fair representation, intense for some two decades, now turn to what may well seem to comprise the heart of the “political thicket”? Throughout this period of reapportionment litigation, federal courts have alluded to the problem, with increasing concern shown by members of the Supreme Court of the United States, about its importance (e.g., Karcher v. Daggett, 103 S. Ct. 2653: 1983). Is the time ripe for a direct judicial examination of the gerrymander on constitutional grounds? And, if so, does California comprise an appropriate test case?
Prerequisite to answering such questions are: (1) an understanding of how and why gerrymandering, in magnitude, extent, and impact, has become an essentially new kind of issue rather than a mere extension of a traditional practice; and (2) a need to develop judicially manageable standards of identifying gerrymanders.
Prior to the reapportionment revolution of the 1960s, there existed a variety of constraints that conditioned boundary manipulation. For one thing, a large number of states simply failed to redistrict for several decades, the situation that triggered Baker v. Can (369 U.S. 186: 1962), Wesberry v. Sanders (376 U.S. 1: 1964), et al. This resulted in great disparities in population among districts, a form of “silent” or “status quo” gerrymander that in practice minimized periodic boundary manipulation. For example, district lines for Congress were typically redrawn only in states—usually a minority—that lost or gained seats.