Justices struggle with partisan redistricting again

WASHINGTON (AP) — Dealing with an issue that could affect elections across the country, Supreme Court justices wrestled today with how far states may go to craft electoral districts that give the majority party a huge political advantage.

But even as they heard their second case on partisan redistricting in six months, the justices expressed uncertainty about the best way to deal with a problem that several said would get worse without the court's intervention.

The arguments the court heard today were over an appeal by Republican voters in Maryland who object to a congressional district that Democrats drew to elect a candidate of their own.

The Maryland case is a companion to one from Wisconsin in which Democrats complain about a Republican-drawn map of legislative districts. That case was argued in October and remains undecided.

Justice Stephen Breyer suggested that the court could add in yet a third case involving North Carolina's congressional district and set another round of arguments to deal with all three states.

Breyer's comment is an indication that the justices haven't figured out the Wisconsin case in the nearly six months since it was argued.

More importantly, it suggests that Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote almost certainly controls the outcome, has reservations about using the Wisconsin case for the court's first-ever ruling that districting plans that entrench one party's control of the legislature or congressional delegation can violate the constitutional rights of the other party's voters.

The Maryland lawsuit offers the court a more limited approach to dealing with the issue because it involves just one district that flipped from Republican to Democratic control after the 2011 round of redistricting.

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