Today, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision declaring that partisan gerrymandering, the redrawing of legislative districts to favor one political party over another, presents a political question that federal courts cannot review.
In his opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by four conservative members of the Court, concluded that “partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.” Roberts added that “excessive partisanship in districting leads to results that reasonably seem unjust. But the fact that such gerrymandering is ‘incompatible with democratic principles’…does not mean the solution lies with the federal judiciary.”
In her passionate dissent, Justice Kagan criticized the majority, stating that “of all the times to abandon the Court’s duty to declare the law, this was not one.” “If left unchecked, gerrymanders like the ones here may irreparably damage our system of government,” she wrote. Her dissent emphasizes that partisan gerrymandering threatens every American’s right to participate in free and fair elections, as it allows powerful legislators of both parties to draw districts in their favor.
The case reached the Supreme Court in March this year on appeal from the District Courts of North Carolina and Maryland. The District Courts ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, declaring that partisan gerrymandering was justiciable. The North Carolina case involved plaintiffs who alleged that North Carolina’s 2016 congressional districts were drawn to disadvantage Democrats, and the Maryland plaintiffs argued that their 2011 congressional districts discriminated against Republicans. The plaintiffs believed that partisan gerrymandering clearly violated the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Elections Clause.
Just last year, the Supreme Court heard a similar case arising in Wisconsin on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering. The Court, however, avoided the question by declaring that the plaintiffs did not have legal standing to sue.
Media Resources: Supreme Court 6/27/19, The New York Times 6/27/19, Feminist Newswire 6/26/18