“You paint a very dire picture about gerrymandering and its effects,” Alito said, “but I was struck by something in the seminal article by your expert, Mr. McGhee, and he says there, ‘I show that the effects of party control on bias are small and decay rapidly, suggesting that redistricting is at best a blunt tool for promoting partisan interests.’ So he was wrong in that?”
The question baffled Smith, who said he would need to see the context.
“Well,” Alito retorted, “that’s what he said.”
No, it isn’t.
I called Eric McGhee, the expert, after the argument. The quote Alito pulled was not from the “seminal article” McGhee co-wrote proposing the legal standard for gerrymandering at the center of the case. It was from an earlier McGhee paper, using data from the 1970s through 1990s. In the paper at the center of the case, by contrast, “we used updated data from the 2000s,” McGhee told me, “and the story is very different. It’s gotten a lot worse in the last two cycles. . . . The data are clear.”
Why would Alito resort to this sleight of hand? Perhaps because it’s clear that if he stuck to the facts, he’d have to acknowledge that the growing abuse of gerrymandering threatens democracy.