The Supreme Court justices heard an hour of arguments on Tuesday in the major voting rights case out of Wisconsin involving the practice known as “gerrymandering,” a practice that began two centuries ago, involved manipulating boundaries of legislative districts to benefit one party and diminish another.The Court’s ruling, expected by June, could have an impact on U.S. elections for decades by setting standards for when electoral districts are laid out with such extreme partisan aims that they deprive voters of their constitutional rights.

The Court has a 5-4 conservative majority.  It is expected that conservative Anthony Kennedy, who sometimes sides with the liberal justices in important rulings, is likely to cast the deciding vote.   He did not definitively tip his hand on how he would rule but posed tough questions to Wisconsin’s lawyers, signaling his aversion to electoral districts drawn to give one party a lopsided advantage in elections.

In a 2004 ruling in another case, Kennedy parted with his conservative colleagues to suggest that, if partisan gerrymandering went too far, violating the Constitution, courts may have to step in if a “workable standard” for deciding when to do that could be found.

Justice Roberts raised concerns about the high court approving or rejecting future state electoral maps, suggesting the public could start viewing the court as a political body.  “This is going to cause very serious harm to the statue and integrity of the decisions of this court in the eyes of the country,” Roberts said.

Liberal justices voiced sympathy for the Democratic voters who challenged the Republican-drawn legislative map in Wisconsin as a violation of their constitutional rights.  However, conservative justices expressed doubt about whether courts should intervene in such highly-political disputes as well as questioning the challengers’ legal standing to bring the case.

Democratic as well as Republican critics argue that gerrymandering is becoming more extreme because it now can be guided by precise voter data and mapmaking technology.  Therefore, distorting the democratic process by letting politicians choose their voters rather than the other way around.

A federal three-judge panel ruled 2-1 last November that Wisconsin’s redistricting plan violated the Constitution’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression and association and the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law because of the extent to which it marginalized Democratic voters.  Wisconsin appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.