Laboratories of Democracy Reform: State Constitutions and Partisan Gerrymandering

88 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2019 Last revised: 27 Jan 2020

See all articles by Samuel Wang

Samuel Wang

Princeton University - Neuroscience Institute

Richard Ober

Richard F. Ober, Jr.

Ben Williams

Princeton University

Date Written: February 13, 2019


Despite multiple opportunities to address the issue, the Supreme Court has declined to take action on partisan gerrymandering. Here we argue that the Court has successfully laid out several intellectual paths toward effective regulation - but that the best route for applying such reasoning goes not through federal law, but state constitutions. In Gill v. Whitford, 138 S.Ct. 1916 (2018), Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kagan proposed differing theories for justiciable tests for partisan gerrymandering. Chief Justice Roberts described how a claim of individual harm to a voter could lead to a valid claim in a single district. Justice Kagan described how a claim of associational harm could be advanced at a statewide level. We propose that Roberts’ and Kagan’s theories can be used to bring partisan gerrymandering challenges in state court, with claims based on state constitutions and not the U.S. Constitution. We argue that such a federalist approach offers the most promising route to remedying partisan gerrymandering in America. All fifty state constitutions contain rights and protections which could be used to bring a partisan gerrymandering claim. These include analogues of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, guarantees of pure, free, and fair elections, and redistricting-specific guarantees such as geographic compactness. Because each of these protections involves either individualized or associational harms, the Roberts and Kagan opinions offer state courts persuasive guidance for how to analyze their own constitutional provisions to a partisan gerrymandering claim. Advancing such claims on a state by state basis allows courts to adapt the reasoning to local circumstances. Taken together, our arguments describe a federalist approach for eliminating partisan gerrymandering, a major bug in American democracy.

Keywords: redistricting, gerrymandering, federalism, gobbledygook, Gill, Whitford

Suggested Citation

Wang, Samuel and Ober, Richard and Williams, Benjamin, Laboratories of Democracy Reform: State Constitutions and Partisan Gerrymandering (February 13, 2019). University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Samuel Wang (Contact Author)

Princeton University - Neuroscience Institute ( email )

United States
6092580388 (Phone)
6092581028 (Fax)


Richard Ober

Richard F. Ober, Jr. ( email )

22 Chambers Street
Princeton, NJ 08544-0708
United States

Benjamin Williams

Princeton University ( email )

22 Chambers Street
Princeton, NJ 08544-0708
United States

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