In a much anticipated ruling, the Supreme Court has decided to keep federal courts away from gerrymandering complaints.
The decision allows politicians to continue drawing unfair electoral districts (unless blocked by state courts) and reverses the outcome of rulings in four states that had ordered new congressional maps drawn.
“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts.
The case was brought by Democrats in North Carolina and Republicans in Maryland. Both parties claimed that congressional maps drawn by the opposing party unfairly benefitted that party and sought to prove that partisan gerrymandering was unconstitutional.
In the majority opinion, Roberts noted that the High Court has never considered a partisan gerrymander as unconditional.
The drawing of congressional districts “poses basic questions that are political, not legal,” explained Roberts. “There are no legal standards discernible in the Constitution for making such judgments, let alone limited and precise standards that are clear, manageable, and politically neutral.”
The Court’s decision comes ahead of the 2020 census, which will require new maps to be drawn. It’s possible those maps will be even more biased because politicians have nothing to fear from federal courts.
“Excessive partisanship in districting leads to results that reasonably seem unjust,” noted Roberts. “But the fact that such gerrymandering is ‘incompatible with democratic principles’ does not mean that the solution lies with the federal judiciary.”
Thursday’s vote fell along party lines, with the Court’s four liberal justices dissenting.
“Of all times to abandon the Court’s duty to declare the law, this was not the one,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan. “The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government. Part of the Court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections.”
Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden criticized the Court’s decision and blamed it on Donald Trump. The Supreme Court “refused to stop politicians rigging our democracy by writing election rules for their own benefit,” he wrote. “It couldn’t have happened without justices put there by Donald Trump and Republicans – another reason why Democrats must take back the White House in 2020.”
Author’s Note: The Supreme Court was wise to leave this issue for states to decide. There was no way the Court could have come up with a non-partisan solution (if one exists at all), so they rightfully decided it wasn’t their business.
If the states want to do something about gerrymandering, they have the power to do so.