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September 18, 2018

Does the Constitution Forbid Gerrymandering?


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Directions:  Read the summary below first, then watch the video and answer the discussion questions. To help students follow along, turn on the closed captions function marked “CC” or use the transcript. You may also wish to read the NewsHour article here. For the latest on the debate over gerrymandering and voter participation, read North Carolina’s congressional map still unlawful with partisan bias, judges rule.

The Supreme Court upheld current state and congressional districts in Texas in a much-awaited 5-4 decision on racial gerrymandering. The majority of the Supreme Court rejected a lower court’s findings that Texas had engaged in racial discrimination, primarily against black and Hispanic voters, in its 2013 redistricting map. So, what is gerrymandering? The practice of drawing congressional district lines to benefit one political party over another is known as gerrymandering and dates back to the 19th century. Today, state legislatures across the country draw congressional district lines every 10 years with the results of the U.S. Census, which is the government count of all its residents. The big issue: Is gerrymandering constitutional? Or does it violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments?


Discuss questions as a class or with a partner or craft a written response.

  1. Essential question: How does gerrymandering affect democracy?
  2. What does the U.S. Constitution say about gerrymandering? If you’re not sure, how could you find out?
  3. Why do policy experts and concerned citizens say gerrymandering leaves certain voting populations, such as African Americans, at a disadvantage?
  4. What is the U.S. House of Representatives? How are its members elected?
  5. Where are the dividing lines between your voting district and the neighboring districts? Who decides these boundary lines?
  6. Do you think gerrymandering is a problem? Explain your response.
  7. Do you think independent commissions would be effective in preventing gerrymandering? Why or why not?

Key terms
gerrymander — to manipulate the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favor one party or class
congressional district — an electoral constituency based on population that elects a single member of a congress
incumbent — a person who holds a political office or post

Fun fact 
The term “gerrymander” comes from Elbridge Gerry, a Massachusetts governor who helped draw the boundaries of a congressional district so misshapen and blatantly one-sided that one critic said the map looked like a salamander. “No,” another replied, “a Gerry-mander.”

Extension activity
Crash Course videos are great because they address nuances of the argument and ask questions like this: “So who draws these cockamamie districts, anyway?” After you’ve watched the video, discuss the nuances of the gerrymandering debate.

Visit PBS NewsHour Extra for more education resources designed to help teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories@NewsHourExtra

PBS NewsHour Classroom

PBS NewsHour Classroom helps teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories.

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