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.
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."