Thursday, June 27, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that challenges partisan gerrymandering as a political issue beyond the reach of federal courts.
The drafters of the Constitution, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority with the understanding that politics would play a role in drawing election districts when they gave the task to state legislatures. Judges, the chief justice said, are not entitled to second-guess lawmakers’ judgments.
“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” 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.”
According to Roberts, Federal courts don’t have power to intervene under Article III of the Constitution when an issue is entrusted to the political branches of government; it’s the elections clause that gives state legislatures the power to set the “times, places and manner of holding elections” for members of Congress, while also giving Congress the power to “make or alter” any such regulations
Roberts also added that bills have been introduced in Congress to reduce reliance on politics in redistricting.
Those who are against the ruling propose that partisan gerrymanders have debased and dishonored our nation’s democracy, turning the American idea that all governmental power derives from the people upside-down.
So what is gerrymandering?
Gerrymandering is an old practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries, and can be used to protect incumbents.
In addition to its use achieving desired electoral results for a particular party, gerrymandering may be used to help or hinder a particular demographic, such as: political, ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, or class group. Both political parties have used it, aided by sophisticated software in order to draw oddly shaped voting districts to favor their party’s candidates.
Republicans currently capture state legislatures around the country, but should the Democrats capture state legislatures in the next election, the ruling would allow them to employ the same tactics.
In general, this ruling allows politicians to keep drawing electoral districts that entrench their power unless state law—or future congressional legislation—keeps them from doing so.
Many critics agree that the gerrymandering ruling was bad, but the decision has one point in its favor: it was better than the alternatives.
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