less than 1 minute read

Mahan v. Howell

Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering refers to a state legislature's ability to re-establish boundaries of election precincts in ways that give one political party or group of people some advantage over another. It may include redrawing districts to exclude groups who do not support the dominant party in office at the time of redistricting.

The term was coined by Benjamin Russell, a newspaper editor in 1812. During Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry's second term in office, the state legislature reapportioned the voting districts giving the Democratic-Republicans an edge in the state elections of senators. One new district was oddly shaped and spread out. An artist used the shape of the district to create a joke, adding " . . . wings, claws, and teeth to its outline, prompting the suggestion that it resembled a salamander." Russell gave it the name Gerrymander, thereby connecting the newly coined word to the governor.

This practice creating oddly shaped voting districts to provide one group with an advantage in an election over another may be challenged constitutionally, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. This applies even when voting districts are designed to provide an advantage to minority voters, as set down in Shaw v. Reno (1993).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Mahan v. Howell - Significance, What Is The Percentage?, Home-port Or Home Address?, Flexibility And Local Control