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On Tuesday, three federal judges in North Carolina threw out the state’s congressional map because it was “motivated by invidious partisan intent.” On Wednesday, another panel of judges in Pennsylvania upheld that state’s map, with one arguing that such a political issue was none of the courts’ business.

The two competing federal rulings in partisan gerrymander cases this week underscore the courts’ angst over even getting involved in political decisions, much less overturning them.

Both rulings are certain to draw the Supreme Court’s interest as it mulls a resolution to the gerrymandering question. The Court, with two other redistricting cases before it, is expected this spring to end a decades-long debate over when and if judges should make decisions that could reshape the country’s political landscape.

“You’re seeing how much turmoil there is now in the lower federal courts, and how many federal judges believe the time has come for the courts to impose substantial limits” on partisan gerrymanders, said Richard H. Pildes, a scholar of the law of democracy at the New York University School of Law.

Experts said that even if the Supreme Court chooses to limit partisan gerrymandering, federal judges are unlikely to force a redrawing of overly partisan maps in the middle of high-stakes midterm races. Legal observers said they believed the courts would put off requiring new maps until after the 2018 elections, or even until the next round of redistricting begins following the 2020 census.

Is Partisan Gerrymandering Legal? Why the Courts Are Divided.

Diverging decisions this week by federal judges in North Carolina and Pennsylvania are certain to draw the Supreme Court’s interest as it mulls whether to curtail partisan gerrymandering.


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