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When Judges Carve Democracies: A Primer on Court-Drawn Redistricting Plans

39 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2005  

Nathaniel Persily

Columbia Law School


This essay presents guidelines for courts that undertake to draw their own redistricting plans. Although several dozen courts over the last four redistricting cycles have drawn their own plans, there is precious little in the case law or secondary sources to provide guidance. As a result, courts vary considerably in the procedures they follow and the substantive factors they take into account in their plans. This essay discusses the unique legal constraints on court-drawn plans and assesses the costs and benefits of following various procedures or substantive redistricting principles. The unique context of each case that spurs judicial involvement will often affect a plan more than will universal factors common to all such cases. However, each court that jumps into the political thicket of redistricting must make several critical decisions concerning how much deference it will give to the existing plan, whether to consider the political and incumbency-related effects of its plan, how much input the parties and the public will have in the process, and which, if any, traditional districting principles ought to apply.

Keywords: Redistricting

Suggested Citation

Persily, Nathaniel, When Judges Carve Democracies: A Primer on Court-Drawn Redistricting Plans. U of Penn. Law School, Public Law Working Paper 66. Available at SSRN:

Nathaniel Persily (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

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