Would Jesus oppose partisan gerrymandering?

The title may be slightly glib, but a biblical allusion caught my attention as I was reading the briefs in Gill v. Whitford, the partisan gerrymandering case before the Supreme Court. The reference appeared in the amicus brief of Heather Gerken, Jonathan Katz, Gary King, Larry Sabato, and Sam Wang--an impressive lineup, to be sure! The biblical references occur in a passage about the ubiquity of the principle of symmetry:

While modern discrimination law is replete with examples of symmetry standards, the principle’s roots are ancient. One finds, for instance, examples in Judeo-Christian ethics, Genesis 13:8-9; Matthew 7:12. The notion of turning the tables is so powerful that it is a canon of literature, William Shakespeare, A Mid-Summer Night's Dream; William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night; Mark Twain, The Prince and the Pauper (1881), music, W.S. Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan, H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), and moral philosophy, John Rawls, A Theory of Justice 73-78 (rev. ed. 1999). This measure of fairness is deployed across cultures. See Cinderella Across Cultures (Martine Hennard Dutheil de la Rochère et al. eds. 2016); Heather K. Gerken, Second Order Diversit, 118 Harv. L. Rev. 1099, 1146 & n.124 (2005) (discussing Japanese tradition). Even children rely on the time-honored strategy of “I cut, you choose.”

So, no, the brief is not about whether Jesus would support or oppose partisan gerrymandering. Instead, it is a biblical allusion to the principle of symmetry.

Matthew 7:12 is the "Golden Rule": "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."

Unfortunately, I think this gets symmetry wrong--the Christian faith, rightly understood, including the Golden Rule, is quite asymmetrical.

Consider the Golden Rule itself: it is to do to others as you would wish they would do to you. There is no expected return from others. Indeed, there is a likelihood that others would not reciprocate. But there is no expectation of anything in return for those who adhere to the Golden Rule. The command from Jesus is to do without any expectation of anything in return. The Golden Rule can be misconstrued as anticipating or expecting some kind of mutual respect toward one another. It isn't that, as much as we might want everyone to respect one another. Instead, it is about the radical self-giving of the Christian to all others--giving, without expecting anything in return.

The brief offers the simple summary of symmetry: "Partisan symmetry is a deeply intuitive standard for measuring discrimination. It asks a simple question: what would happen if the tables were turned?" But, I think, the Gospels are replete with expectations for the Christian tradition of asymmetrical treatment and expectations.

From earlier in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, for instance, Jesus expressly rebukes a "turn the tables" standard: "You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you."

This, of course, doesn't mean that principle of governance can't be dictated by norms like symmetry. The brief is correct that symmetry has an extensive legal and non-legal tradition. (Indeed, the "eye for an eye" reference was omitted, surely a strong symmetrical standard!) And it might be that in establishing rules pertaining to representative government, symmetry is a sensible standard.

But, it is to suggest something slightly more modest. Biblical allusions can be a valuable device in making a persuasive argument. But precision of understanding biblical claims is, perhaps, just as important.