In extended remarks, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. expressed worry that the court’s authority and legitimacy would be harmed were it to start striking down voting districts in favor of one political party or another.
“That is going to cause very serious harm to the status and integrity of the decisions of this court,” he said.
Paul M. Smith, a lawyer for Democratic voters challenging a voting map in Wisconsin, urged the court to act. “You are the only institution in the United States that can solve this problem,” he told the justices.
The member of the court who probably holds the crucial vote, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, asked questions suggesting that he thought the Supreme Court has a role to play in limiting partisan gerrymandering.
The Supreme Court has never struck down an election map on the ground that it was drawn to make sure one political party wins an outsize number of seats. The court has, however, left open the possibility that some kinds of political gamesmanship in redistricting may be too extreme.
The problem, Justice Kennedy wrote in a 2004 concurrence, is that no one has devised “a workable standard” to decide when the political gerrymandering has crossed a constitutional line.
On Tuesday, lawyers for the state of Wisconsin urged the justices to reject such a challenge to that state’s redistricting map, drawn by the Republican-controlled government, saying that Democratic critics…