Theses Master's

The Democratic Deficit: Rethinking Gerrymandering In The United States Of America As A Human Rights Violation And Exploring Its Implications

Sered-Schoenberg, Michal

In 2022, the United States Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments for two cases, Moore v. Harper and Merrill v. Milligan. These cases have the potential to gut the remaining aspects of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and unravel American democracy. The right to vote is considered fundamental to the United States' democracy, however, in the last decade the U.S. has been plagued with explicit and covert attempts to curtail this right. Redistricting – the once-in-a-decade process of drawing new voting district boundaries – has been manipulated into a structural barrier to voting. The drawing of electoral districts is among the least transparent processes in U.S. democratic governance.

Gerrymandering is particularly insidious, because it is a covert form disenfranchisement that manipulates the redistricting process to privilege particular groups of voters. Exploiting redistricting by means of racial discrimination and partisan manipulation through the tool of gerrymandering has become the most effective way to dilute equitable representation. No matter the intent, gerrymandering disenfranchises Black Americans and communities of color of their right to fair and equal representation.

My research considers the following question: How does gerrymandering present as a human rights violation of the right to vote for communities of color in the United States – particularly Black Americans? Furthermore, my research explores the implications of framing gerrymandering as a human rights violation. Moreover, my discussion investigates how different entities should progress to utilize international human rights law and rights-based advocacy through the U.S.’s judicial and legislative systems to address gerrymandering. These questions are examined through a case study of redistricting and gerrymandering of North Carolina's Congressional districts. This thesis aims to examine gerrymandering within the United States as a human rights violation, via the ICCPR and CERD, and the implications of this framework. This study investigates the relationship between race, redistricting, and gerrymandering.

The discussion focuses on judicial, policy, and advocacy techniques for moving forward once this relationship is fully established. To support my case study, I interviewed experts from a wide array of fields to uplift the discussion. This thesis demonstrates the existing gap in literature regarding Human Rights accountability in the United States, overall, but specifically regarding political rights. This research builds on the framework that gerrymandering is inherently undemocratic, denigrating the ideals upon which the United States was founded. Gerrymandering is a major impediment to fair and free elections by skewing election results, making races less competitive, hurting communities of color, and thwarting the will of the voters. Regardless of which party is responsible for gerrymandering, the voters ultimately lose out.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Institute for the Study of Human Rights
Thesis Advisors
Velez, Yamil R.
M.A., Columbia University
Published Here
March 8, 2023