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US Supreme Court to hear historic electoral map manipulation cases

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In two cases that could reverberate through U.S. politics for years to come, the Supreme Court is set on Tuesday to hear arguments over the contentious practice of manipulating electoral district boundaries to entrench one party in power.

The justices last year failed to deliver a definitive ruling on the legality of the practice, called partisan gerrymandering. They will get another chance in cases challenging North Carolina’s Republican-drawn statewide U.S. House of Representatives map and a single Democratic-drawn House district in Maryland.

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Critics have said gerrymandering has become increasingly effective and insidious by using precise voter data and powerful computer software. The result in many states has been the creation of electoral districts, sometimes oddly shaped to include or exclude certain localities, that maximize one party’s chances of winning and diluting the clout of voters who tend to support the other party.

Gerrymandering also tends to foster the election of candidates with more extreme views at the expense of moderates, according to critics, adding to U.S. political polarization.

The two cases are among the most important that the court will consider in its current term, with rulings due by the end of June. The outcome could impact U.S. elections for decades either by allowing federal courts to curb partisan gerrymandering or by removing their power to do so, giving gerrymandering-minded state legislators a freer hand.

Gerrymandering is carried out by cramming as many like-minded voters as possible into a small number of districts and spreading the rest in other districts too thinly to form a majority.

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Plaintiffs in the two cases – Democratic voters in North Carolina and Republican voters in Maryland – have said the maps were drawn to diminish their voting power, violating their constitutional rights. In both cases, lower courts ruled that the contested districts violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law, the right to free speech and association, or constitutional provisions governing elections.

While the Supreme Court, which currently has a 5-4 conservative majority, has ruled in the past against gerrymandering intended to harm the electoral clout of racial minorities, it has never reined in gerrymandering carried out purely for partisan advantage.

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Some conservative Supreme Court justices have been skeptical that courts could properly measure when maps are too partisan. In a 2004 case, former Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who sometimes voted with the liberals in key cases, left open the door for a “workable standard” to be found.

Kennedy retired last year and was replaced by Republican President Donald Trump’s conservative appointee Brett Kavanaugh, whose views on gerrymandering are unknown.

North Carolina’s Republican legislators have said judges are not equipped to determine how much politics is too much in electoral line-drawing. Plaintiffs have said turning away gerrymandering claims would be a green light for even more ruthless redistricting.

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The North Carolina case focuses on how Republican legislators reworked House districts in 2016 to ensure that 10 Republicans were elected to House seats, compared to just three Democrats, in a state whose voters are closely divided between the two parties. Noting that partisan gerrymandering was not illegal, Republicans were open about their intent.

“I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats,” state House Representative David Lewis said at the time.

Using those words as evidence, more than two dozen Democratic voters, the North Carolina Democratic Party and two groups that advocate for fair elections sued.

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In the Maryland case, Republican voters sued after the Democratic-controlled legislature redrew boundaries of their House district in a way that removed Republican-leaning areas and added Democratic-leaning areas. The move flipped the seat from Republican to Democrat.

Legislative districts across the country are redrawn to reflect population changes determined by the federal census each decade. In most states, redistricting is done by the party in power, though some assign the task to independent commissions in the interest of fairness.

Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham

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… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

We need your support to keep producing quality journalism and deepen our investigative reporting. Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Invest with us in the future. Make a one-time contribution to Raw Story Investigates, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.



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Humanitarian volunteer says he won’t be deterred after facing charges in Arizona for helping migrants

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We broadcast live from Tucson, Arizona, where the government recently put humanitarian activist Scott Warren on trial amid the ongoing policing of the U.S.-Mexico border, separation of families, and cruel and inhumane conditions at immigrant jails across the country. Warren, a longtime volunteer with the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths, was charged with three felony counts for his alleged crime of providing food, water and shelter to migrants in Ajo, Arizona. The immigrants had arrived at the doorstep of a humanitarian shelter after a perilous journey across the Sonoran Desert. At the same time, he and other volunteers also faced separate misdemeanor charges for leaving water jugs and food for migrants on a national wildlife refuge in the remote desert. The trial took eight days, and after hours of deliberation, the jury returned without a verdict. Eight found Scott Warren not guilty; the remaining four said he was. The government will now retry Warren in November. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison. As he awaits his next trial, Scott Warren met us in the remote town of Ajo, Arizona, this weekend for his first trip in a year to leave water and food for migrants in the desert.

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Trump’s economic adviser doesn’t see a recession coming — but he said the same thing in 2008

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President Donald Trump's chief economic adviser insists there are no signs of a recession on the horizon -- but he's been staggeringly wrong before.

Larry Kudlow went on NBC's "Meet the Press" over the weekend to assure viewers that no economic downturn was coming, but the Washington Post's Aaron Blake pointed out that his track record for predictions was pitiful.

“Well, I’ll tell you what: I sure don’t see a recession,” Kudlow told host Chuck Todd. “So I think actually the second half, the economy’s going to be very good in 2019.”

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Controversial study links fluoride in water to lower IQ

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A study published Monday links exposure to fluoridated tap water during pregnancy to lower IQ scores in infants, but several outside experts expressed concern over its methodology and questioned its findings.

Fluoride has been added to community water supplies in industrial countries to prevent tooth decay since the 1950s.

Very high levels of the mineral have been found to be toxic to the brain, though the concentrations seen in fluoridated tap water are generally deemed safe.

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