In a major blow to election reformers, the U.S. Supreme Court Thursday rejected efforts to rein in electoral map manipulation by politicians aimed at entrenching one party in power.
In a 5-4 ruling that could reverberate through U.S. politics for years to come, the justices ruled that federal judges do not have the ability to curb partisan gerrymandering.
“Today, the Supreme Court gave Republican politicians across the country the approval to rig our democracy and suppress voters with racist, gerrymandered maps. This is is not what democracy is about. We can take back power by registering and mobilizing new voters,” Bernie Sanders wrote on Twitter.
Today, the Supreme Court gave Republican politicians across the country the approval to rig our democracy and suppress voters with racist, gerrymandered maps. This is is not what democracy is about. We can take back power by registering and mobilizing new voters. https://t.co/JBIgSO2kmh— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) June 27, 2019
The court ruled along ideological lines in the decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, with its conservative members in the majority and liberals in dissent. It sided with Republican lawmakers in North Carolina and Democratic legislators in Maryland who drew electoral district boundaries that were challenged by voters.
President Donald Trump's fellow Republicans have been the primary beneficiaries of gerrymandering since the last round of redistricting following the 2010 census.
“Today the Supreme Court threw up its hands & declared it can’t rein in partisan gerrymandering – can’t protect Americans’ constitutional rights to participate in their democracy equally & choose their representatives. It's a shameful blow to the functioning of our democracy,” Elizabeth Warren wrote on Twitter.
The Supreme Court's decision is an abomination. Five Republican-appointed justices gave the green light to partisan gerrymandering—which lets Republicans pursue their extreme agenda without accountability to the people. It's bad for our democracy and we need to fight back.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) June 27, 2019
The court ruled for the first time that federal courts have no authority to curb partisan gerrymandering - a decision that could give lawmakers who control state legislatures even more incentive to draw maps after the 2020 census that disadvantage voters who tend to back the rival party.
The ruling delivered a huge setback to election reformers who had hoped the court would intervene over a growing trend in which parties that control state legislatures use the electoral district line-drawing process to cement their grip on power and dilute the voting power of people who support the rival party.
Liberal Justice Elena Kagan announced a lengthy dissent from the bench, noting that the gerrymandered districts have violated the constitutional rights of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens, whose votes count for less than they should merely because of their political views, undermining free and fair elections.
"The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government," Kagan said, adding, "With respect but deep sadness," that the four liberal justices dissented.
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar demanding the end of gerrymandering. She wrote, “This is a direct assault on representative democracy. #EndGerrymandering”
The decision could have a major impact on states across the country. Critics have said gerrymandering is becoming more extreme and can better engineer election outcomes with the use of precise voter data and powerful computer software. The justices on May 24 blocked lower court rulings that had struck down Republican-drawn electoral maps in Michigan and Ohio and had ordered new ones to be drawn for the 2020 election.
The boundaries of legislative districts across the country are redrawn to reflect population changes contained in the census conducted by the federal government every decade, a head count mandated by the U.S. Constitution.
This redistricting in most states is carried out by the party in power, though some states in the interest of fairness assign the task to independent commissions. Gerrymandering typically involves politicians drawing legislative districts to pack voters who tend to favor a particular party into a small number of districts to diminish their statewide voting power while dispersing others in districts in numbers too small to be a majority.
“It's now in the hands of voters across the nation to hold legislators to account and demand fair maps,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote.
BREAKING: SCOTUS rules that partisan gerrymandering cases are a political question, meaning that courts can't decide them. This allows gerrymandering to continue and flourish.— ACLU (@ACLU) June 27, 2019
It's now in the hands of voters across the nation to hold legislators to account and demand fair maps.
Freda Levenson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Ohio, said in a statement: "The court’s decision to allow the practice of gerrymandering to continue, to flourish, and to evade review by the judicial system, leaves it in the hands of those who will continue to abuse their awesome power whenever they can to defeat the will of the voters."
Critics have said partisan gerrymandering, when taken to extremes, warps democracy by intentionally diluting the power of some voters and the electability candidates they support.
House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, said in a statement, "Partisan gerrymandering is fundamentally corrosive to democracy. Democratic government is required by definition to reflect the popular will. Gerrymandering undermines democratic government by enabling minority factions to control state and local governments against the majority will, and to perpetuate that control by enacting gerrymanders."
Journalist Mehdi Hassan said that gerrymandering is akin to rigging votes.
“Let’s call it what it is: rigging or even cheating. Much of what happens in politics is hidden from public view by a compliant/deferential media,” Hassan wrote on Twitter.
This ‘partisan gerrymandering’ story should be covered in a way voters understand - who the hell knows what gerrymandering actually is? Let’s call it what it is: rigging or even cheating. Much of what happens in politics is hidden from public view by a compliant/deferential media— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) June 27, 2019
Gerrymandering is a practice dating back two centuries in the United States. But critics have said it is becoming more extreme with the use of precision computer modeling to guide the creation of district boundaries that maximize the clout of one party's voters at the expense of other voters.
While the Supreme Court has ruled against gerrymandering intended to harm the electoral clout of racial minorities, it has never curbed gerrymandering carried out purely for partisan advantage.
Democrats have said partisan gerrymandering by Republicans in such states as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania helped Trump's party maintain control of the U.S. House and various state legislatures for years.
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