Having It Both Ways: Supreme Court Allows Extreme Partisan Gerrymandering But Says It Doesn’t Endorse It

Having It Both Ways: Supreme Court Allows Extreme Partisan Gerrymandering But Says It Doesn’t Endorse It

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. speaks during the National Action Network Convention in New York, April 3, 2019 (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

The Supreme Court has handed Republicans a huge victory by refusing to stop severe gerrymandering of maps in a ruling that could jeopardize how much of a voice the American people have in selecting their leaders.

Federal courts must stay out of disputes over when politicians go too far in drawing district lines for partisan gain, even if the practice is unfair, SCOTUS said today, according to CNN.

Gerrymandering is essentially politicians picking their voters rather than the other way around, according to the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is working to create fair districts where Democrats can compete.

“Excessive partisanship in districting leads to results that reasonably seem unjust. But the fact that such gerrymandering is ‘incompatible with democratic principles’ … does not mean that the solution lies with the federal judiciary,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the 5-4 decision for the conservative majority.

Roberts concluded that “partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts … 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.”

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This is the wrong time for the Supreme Court to abandon its duty,
Justice Elena Kagan read in a dissent from the bench for the four liberal judges.

“(G)errymandering is, as so many Justices have emphasized before, anti-democratic in the most profound sense,” Kagan wrote.”Of all times to abandon the Court’s duty to declare the law, this was not the one…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.”

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Chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., the National Democratic Redistricting Committee or NDRC has the support of former President Barack Obama. It claims to be attacking the problem of gerrymandering to ensure the next round of redistricting is fair and that maps reflect the will of the voters — to “rebuild a democracy where voters pick their politicians—not the other way around.”

The Supreme Court’s decision on gerrymandering “tears at the fabric of our democracy and puts the interests of the established few above the many,” Holder tweeted.

In 2010, Republicans won the midterms. “That gave them disproportional control over the nation’s redistricting process—where state leaders redraw congressional and state legislative lines following the nation’s Census to make sure districts include roughly the same number of people,” according to the NDRC website:

“In state after state, Republican legislatures and governors used this power over the process to ensure permanent Republican majorities and diminish the voting impact of Democrats and minorities.”

Here are some of the results:

  • In 2012, 1.4 million more Americans voted for Democrats for Congress, but Republicans won a 33-seat majority in Congress.
  • In 2016, despite winning fewer than half of all votes for Congress, Republicans again won a 33-seat majority. In battleground states like Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, and Virginia, the make-up of state legislatures are wildly different than the voting population.

“Gerrymandered districts have had disastrous policy consequences, leading to some of the most right-wing legislation in decades both in Congress and at the state level, including assaults on women’s health, suppressing the vote for people of color, failing to address climate change, and refusing to stand up to the epidemic of gun violence,” according to NDRC. “These policies don’t reflect the majority of voters, but because Republicans have rigged the system in their favor, voters are limited in their ability to do anything about it.”

In his tweet, Holder said that the ruling on partisan maps “means the Roberts court has entered a new political Lochner era.” Holder was referring to a conservative court in American legal history from 1897 to 1937. In his confirmation hearings, Justice Roberts said the Lochner court was “not interpreting the law” but “making the law.”

“Today’s ruling will have enormous downstream consequences across the American political map. In some states, it will favor Democrats; in more states, it will favor Republicans,” said Steve Vladeck, professor at the University of Texas School of Law and CNN Supreme Court analyst. “But what it really favors is polarization, because primary elections will become more important than the general election for many seats in the House of Representatives — and candidates usually have to run to their base in primaries.”

The Supreme Court has given Republicans an opportunity to lock in political dominance for the next decade in many of the 22 states where they control both the legislature and the governor’s office, NY Times reported.

And Democrats, who control 14 statehouses, will be forced to rethink their “belated crusade against gerrymandered maps and begin drawing their own — an eat-or-be-eaten response to Republican success in gaming the redistricting process.”