June 27, 2019

Supreme Court Backs Partisan Voting Maps, Opening Path for More
(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled it has no constitutional authority to throw out voting maps for being too partisan, effectively giving parties that control state legislatures license to redraw districts to cement their political advantages.The justices’ 5-4 decision Thursday -- divided along ideological lines -- upholds disputed congressional maps drawn by Maryland Democrats and North Carolina Republicans, while dooming similar challenges being pressed against Republican-made maps in Ohio and Michigan, boosting that party’s prospects in the 2020 elections.Writing for a majority comprised of Republican-appointed judges, Chief Justice John Roberts said, “partisan gerrymandering is nothing new. Nor is frustration with it.” But he said courts can’t fashion a remedy because the problem requires a political solution, not a judicial one.“We have no commission to allocate political power and influence in the absence of a constitutional directive or legal standards to guide us in the exercise of such authority,” he said. Siding with the chief justice were Trump appointees Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, along with justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.The decision reverses lower court rulings that invalidated the Maryland and North Carolina redistricting efforts. In addition, lower courts had deemed the Ohio and Michigan maps as too partisan and ordered them redrawn for 2020. The high court put those cases on hold pending Thursday’s ruling.Republicans are currently the more frequent beneficiaries of gerrymanders because their electoral success in 2010 let them draw many of the current maps. The ruling will shape the next round of map-drawing, which will take place around the country after the 2020 census. Those lines will apply starting in 2022.Dissenting Justice Elena Kagan briefly choked up as she read her opinion from the bench. She called the majority ruling “tragically wrong” and said it was “with respect but deep sadness,” that she and justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor disagreed. Each of them were nominated by Democratic presidents.Kagan said it was the first time the court was refusing to remedy a constitutional violation “because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities.” She added that partisan gerrymanders “debased and dishonored our democracy, turning upside-down the core American idea that all governmental power derives from the people.”Independent CommissionsThe decision could spur efforts to establish independent redistricting commissions in states where those are permissible. The Supreme Court in 2016 upheld a commission in Arizona, one of about a dozen states where commissions now have primary responsibility for drawing district lines. Some of those states let politicians serve on the commissions, limiting their independence.Critics say gerrymandered districts undermine democracy, letting representatives choose their voters, rather than the other way around. Freda Levenson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union chapter that challenged the Ohio map, assailed the high court ruling in an emailed 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,” Levenson said.Those on the other side say no principled way exists to distinguish legitimate political considerations from unconstitutional gerrymandering.Opponents say the North Carolina map was explicitly crafted to have 10 generally safe Republican seats out of 13 overall. In November’s election, Democrats won 48% of the state’s overall House vote but could end up with only three districts. A fourth will be decided in a special election in September, after an earlier Republican nominee’s campaign was tainted by allegations of ballot fraud.North Carolina State Representative David Lewis, a Republican who helped lead the redistricting effort, said in 2016 that he supported drawing the map with 10 Republican-heavy districts “because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”A three-judge panel said the North Carolina map violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause and First Amendment. The panel also said the North Carolina map runs afoul of the Constitution’s elections clause, which guarantees “the people” the right to select their representatives.In the other case, a three-judge panel had ordered Maryland to redraw the boundaries of a congressional district in the western part of the state, saying Democrats improperly drew it to squeeze out an incumbent Republican.“The fight is far from over,” said Paul Smith, vice president of the Campaign Legal Center, which pressed the North Carolina fight. “We must redouble our efforts outside the courtroom to keep advancing efforts that put the voices of voters first.”The North Carolina case is Rucho v. Common Cause, 18-422. The Maryland case is Lamone v. Benisek, 18-726.(Updates with reactions from gerrymandering opponents.)\--With assistance from Kimberly Robinson.To contact the reporters on this story: Greg Stohr in Washington at gstohr@bloomberg.net;Andrew Harris in Washington at aharris16@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo, Anna EdgertonFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.



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