The Supreme Court Agrees Gerrymandering Is "Unjust." They Just Won't Fix It.
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For years, the Supreme Court has evaded setting a standard for what constitutes partisan gerrymandering, the practice of mapping out congressional districts in odd shapes to manipulate their political composition and ultimately, give one party a leg up during voting.
Justices continued that trend in twin rulings issued Thursday that declined to establish a legal framework for how state officials can redraw maps used to determine precincts in national elections.
In Rucho v. Common Cause , the justices ruled 5-4 that federal courts don’t have a role to play in reviewing partisan gerrymandering claims. The opinion also applies to a separate but similar partisan gerrymandering case , Lamone v. Benisek , taken up by the court this term.
The justices maintained that none of the proposed tests for evaluating the egregiousness of a state’s gerrymandering were precise enough to be applied as a universal standard.
While Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged that "excessive partisanship in districting leads to results that reasonably seem unjust,” his majority opinion held that the solution doesn’t rest with the federal judiciary.
“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts," he wrote.
In North Carolina and Maryland, plaintiffs argued, lawmakers intentionally re-drew Congressional maps with the goal of limiting the political clout of their opponents. The decisions offer a disappointing blow for leftists, who have long hoped that the Supreme Court would establish a stricter precedent for what courts consider unlawful gerrymandering.
“For the first time ever, this Court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities" Justice Kagan wrote in the dissent, alongside Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Ginsburg.
"The partisan gerrymanders here debased and dishonored our democracy, turning upside-down the core American idea that all governmental power derives from the people," Kagan continued.
Cover image: Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks at a rally calling for "Fair Maps" at the Supreme Court in Washington, as justices hear arguments about partisan gerrymandering, the practice of political parties crafting congressional districts that unfairly benefit one party over another, in Washington, Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)