Gerrymandering: A green light from SCOTUS
The Supreme Court just invited state legislators to go on a frenzy of gerrymandering, said Mitch Smith and Timothy Williams in The New York Times. In a 5-4 decision last week, the court’s conservative justices ruled that federal courts are powerless to stop state lawmakers from drawing electoral maps to favor their own party, no matter how outrageously partisan those efforts are. Writing for the majority in Rucho v. Common Cause, Chief Justice John Roberts conceded that partisan gerrymandering “leads to results that reasonably seem unjust”—but that the drawing of election districts is a “political question” beyond the judiciary branch’s authority. States will set new state and congressional maps after the 2020 census, and the court has now left the door wide open for the winning political party to cement its power for the next decade.
We all know who’s meant to benefit from this decision, said Zack Beauchamp in Vox.com. Both parties gerrymander, but “there is no doubt that Republicans do it more and more shamelessly.” The GOP has used its dominance in state legislatures over the past decade to aggressively pack large numbers of Democratic voters into a handful of districts. Often these districts are urban and heavily black and Latino, diluting their representation and giving a fewer number of rural whites control of most state legislative and congressional seats. In 2018, for example, Republicans won 50 percent of the House vote in North Carolina but got 70 percent of House seats. The court’s decision “seriously undermines our already fragile democracy,” said Eric Foner in TheNation.com. “What is the difference between being denied access to the ballot box and living in a district designed so that your party is guaranteed to lose?”
Gerrymandering does not mean the end of democracy, said Michael Barone in WashingtonExaminer.com. The dark art dates back to 19th-century Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry. And don’t forget that gerrymandered maps have often “backfired on their makers.” The suburbs, once a reliable conservative bastion, helped hand Democrats the House just last year. If you think the courts are politicized now, said Jonathan Rauch in TheAtlantic.com, just imagine if they got involved in deciding which district lines were “fair” or not. Gerrymandering opponents in each state should push for solutions like independent redistricting commissions. “Frustrating though that may seem today, in the longer run it is the sounder, surer path.”