Supreme Court rules judges can’t block partisan gerrymandering

By Tyler Arnold | The Center Square

A narrowly divided Supreme Court ruled Thursday that federal judges have no authority to block politically gerrymandered maps.

The 5-4 decision fell along ideological lines with the five conservative judges signing onto the decision and the liberal judges dissenting.

“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in his 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.”

Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture

U.S. Supreme Court building

Roberts said that the court has been asked to overturn politically gerrymandered lines for the past 45 years, but that it has never done so. If the court made decisions on whether maps were gerrymandered to favor a specific party, he said that judicial reviews would recur with every new round of redistricting.

“That intervention would be unlimited in scope and duration,” Roberts said. He said it would be “an unprecedented expansion of judicial power.”

Roberts emphasized that the Court is not condoning politically gerrymandered maps, but that the issue can be resolved by state courts enforcing state laws on the matter or state legislatures passing new laws that prohibit gerrymandering. He said that both of these avenues have been taken in other states.

Associate Justice Elena Kagan wrote the dissent, arguing that extreme political gerrymandering violates the Constitution. In North Carolina, a lower federal court found political gerrymandering to violate the 14th Amendment, the First Amendment and Article 1 of the Constitution.

“We could have [applied a national standard], and we should have,” Kagan wrote. “The gerrymanders here – and they are typical of many – violated the constitutional rights of many hundreds of thousands of American citizens. Those voters (Republicans in the one case, Democrats in the other) did not have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. Their votes counted for far less than they should have because of their partisan affiliation.”

This ruling will affect several states that have been engaged in lawsuits over political gerrymandering lawsuits in the federal court system, including Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Public domain and (Wikimedia Commons/Public domain)