Partisan gerrymandering is the process of drafting state and congressional districts in a manner that gives one political party an advantage over another. The end goal is simple: help your party win more seats or protect existing ones. The tactic is as old as the United States. In 1788, Patrick Henry convinced the Virginia state legislature to draw the 5th Congressional District to pit his rival James Madison against James Monroe. The term “gerrymander” itself is a hybrid: in 1810, democratic Governor Gerry signed a partisan redistricting plan into law—one that contained a district that infamously looked like a salamander. The opposition Federalist party and the press seized on the oddly shaped district and Governor Gerry was defeated in 1812, although the Democrats ultimately retained control of the state legislature. Despite governor Gerry’s other impressive achievements (including signing the Declaration of Independence), “gerrymandering” is his enduring claim to fame. But it was not until 1842 that gerrymandering took full effect. Due to the Apportionment Act of 1842, states were required to apportion themselves into congressional districts based on population and number of representatives. Previously, states were permitted (and many did) elect their representatives on an at-large basis—a system that allowed the winning party in a statewide election to elect all of their representatives without districts. This change placed incredible importance on the redistricting process, one traditionally controlled by the state legislature.
State Court Litigation: The New Front in the War Against Partisan Gerrymandering,
Mich. L. Rev. Online
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mlr_online/vol116/iss1/10