Deaf political activist Howard Gorrell attends Supreme Court oral arguments on gerrymandering


A long-time Deaf political activist, Howard Gorrell, was in the Supreme Court audience last week during oral arguments on partisan gerrymandering. 

Howard: Hello, my name is Howard Gorrell (signs name.)

Alex: The Daily Moth reached out to Gorrell for an interview. I asked what gerrymandering was and if there was a sign for it. 

Howard: In the US Constitution, it says that all states must have congressional districts.

So…say there is a state split into 4 districts represented by a congressman. There is a number of people that live in each of those districts. If one district has too many people then the district lines are adjusted to ensure all district have equal numbers.

For example, this is the state of Iowa.

It is perfectly divided, but with other states, they cheat.

For example, this is Maryland.


North Carolina.

Why does this happen? I’ll give you some historical context.

A newspaper was angry about this. 

See his last name?

I asked an interpreter what the sign for gerrymandering was. She said she didn’t know. So I invented this. 

This is “G.” (Signs gerrymandering) 

Interpreters will sign it subtly like this to save time. 

Alex: Gorrell explained that he used to live in Maryland and in 2011 was the first person to sue the former governor, Martin O’Malley, on the state’s congressional maps because he felt the their new map was unconstitutional by splitting like-minded agricultural communities. This was reported in “The Baltimore Sun.” 

Gorrell moved out of state so his case was dismissed, but there was another, similar case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. He visited oral arguments on gerrymandering last year and again last week. 

He said he got two seats, one for him and the other for an interpreter, after he reached out to the Chief Justice John Roberts. He explained that he has to provide his own interpreter because he is not a party in the case. 

I asked him what it was like in the Court and to describe the arguments. 

Howard: When I entered the room, they said no water and phones.

I continued on walking then turned to the left. The interpreter sat there and I sat in front of her. My view was that way. They were far away. 

There were 9 justice seated. 

RGB, the elderly woman, was short. Her head was barely above the table. The interpreter invented the justices’ names by spelling out the first letter of their last names. “Justice A.” It’s fast. 

It was different than what I expected. It was different from court on TV shows.

Each party has 30 minutes. One goes first, then the other gets 30 minutes. The justices then give a barrage of questions. Wow. The interpreter was overwhelmed. 

Kavanaugh shook up the judicial world because he was more active with redistricting. I was surprised. He used to be quiet during the questioning process.

Some of the questions seemed to be supportive, but some seemed to be opposed. It went both ways. 

He believes that state governments should have more control. 

I see that there are four judges on each side, the liberals and the conservatives. The Chief Justice Roberts, I expected him to… but Kavanaugh seemed to cross to the other side.

If Chief Justice Roberts sides with the liberals, this districting model will be thrown out. They will need to develop new guidelines and criteria for future districting. Fingers crossed. 

Alex: Gorrell said the Court will announce their decision in late June. I asked him what he hopes they will decide. 

Gorrell: There are people who want the courts to develop these criteria and guidelines for the districting process. If we didn’t have that, the state governments would be responsible for drawing these lines.

Five states have independent commissions without any political influence. These states are California, Washington, Ohio and a couple more. Five in total.

Other state legislations don’t do this.

Alex: He said he hopes there will be federal guidelines for how states decide congressional districts. If not, it will still be up to states’ legislatures to decide the maps. 

Thank you, Gorrell, for your time and for explaining this concept to us. He wrote a blog post on his visit last year and on the topic. The link is in the transcript. 

Gorrell’s Facebook Note/Blog:

Baltimore Sun from 2011:

More Info: