The U.S. Supreme Court has delivered a simple message to those hoping to reform our redistricting process.
It’s up to you to fix it.
On the final day before its summer break, the court issued a 5-4 decision saying the issue should stay in the hands of our elected representatives.
“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “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.”
Justin Levitt, an election law professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, told National Public Radio the decision might not bode well for 2021 when lawmakers across the country begin drawing new legislative and congressional districts.
“We’re in Mad Max territory now,” he said. “There are no rules. I think you’ll see more legislators in more states taking up the mantle of extreme partisan aggression against people who disagree with them.”
Levitt stressed, though, that this was not a partisan issue.
“History has shown that both major parties are perfectly willing to rig the electoral rules to benefit their own and to draw the lines to punish opposing partisans,” he said.
For evidence of that, one need look no further than the two cases the court decided in its latest ruling. In one, a case out of North Carolina, the culprits were Republicans, and in the other, a case out of Maryland, they were Democrats.
In both cases, the parties were clear about what they were doing.
In the Maryland case, the former governor, Martin O’Malley, freely admitted that he was trying to create a district that would be more likely to elect a Democrat.
“Yes, that was clearly my intent,” he testified.
In North Carolina, David Lewis, chairman of that state’s redistricting committee, was no less clear.
“I propose we draw the maps to give an advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it is possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats,” he said.
This was the classic 5-4 decision, with conservatives on one side and liberals on the other.
Justice Elena Kagan wrote the dissent.
“The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government,” she wrote. “Part of the Court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections. With respect but deep sadness, I dissent.”
It is sad that the court bowed out of this discussion, but the fight is far from over.
This is an issue we should all care about. Districts drawn to favor one party over the other damage our democratic process.
They lead to elections that are effectively over in the primary, saddling voters with way too many politicians who are worried only about satisfying the base. That leads to an atmosphere where there is little appetite for compromise, where gridlock is the order of the day.
Voters grow disenchanted and tune out, feeling they have no voice.
For far too long, politicians have been finding ways to choose their voters. It ought to be the other way around.
Groups like Common Cause and the League of Women Voters have been working for years to change all of that. They want a process that will be led not by politicians but by average citizens. They want to bring the deliberations out from the darkened corridors and into the light of day.
They could use your help.
Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI News Indiana. He can be reached at email@example.com.