Thursday, June 27, 2019

Supreme Court rules that federal judges have no role in deciding whether partisan gerrymandering goes too far

Video report by the News & Observer, Raleigh

The Supreme Court ruled today that federal courts have no business deciding whether partisan gerrymandering, which Republicans have increasingly used to empower conservative rural voters, goes too far. The vote was 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the decision that "appeared to close the door on such claims," Adam Liptak writes for The New York Times.

"While the Supreme Court regularly scrutinizes electoral districts for racial gerrymandering, the justices have never found a state’s redistricting map so infected with politics that it violates the Constitution," Robert Barnes reports for The Washington Post. "Such a decision would have marked a dramatic change for how the nation’s political maps are drawn."

Roberts wrote: Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions."

In the minority opinion, Justice Elena Kagan wrote: "For the first time ever, this court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities."

Washington Post graphic shows, in example No. 3, how gerrymandering works but violates two principles of redistricting.
One of the cases was from North Carolina, where in the last two federal elections Republicans have won 53 percent or less of the statewide vote but have won 10 of the state's 13 congressional seats, 77 percent. The other was from Maryland, in which Republicans alleged that the Democratic legislature's 2011 redistricting plan violated the First Amendment by diluting their voting power, resulting in defeat of a longtime Republican congressman, Roscoe G. Bartlett.

The court has had the opportunity to rule on partisan gerrymandering before but has declined for various reasons. Last term the court considered challenges to Wisconsin, Maryland, and North Carolina's maps, but sent those cases back to lower courts for technical reasons.

"There’s been less reticence outside the Supreme Court. With recent decisions in Ohio and Michigan, federal courts in five states have struck down maps as partisan gerrymanders," Barnes reports. "And last fall, voters in Michigan, Ohio, Colorado, Missouri and Utah either took redistricting away from politicians or limited their power."

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