Supreme Court Rules 5-4 on Political Gerrymandering

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision along conservative-liberal lines that deciding the issue of political gerrymandering was beyond the court’s reach to decide. The court determined that gerrymandering is more of a political question than a judicial one that should be best decided in state legislatures. Partisan redistricting, though lamentable, does not fall under review of the federal courts.

Chief Justice Roberts was the decisive swing vote in yet another decision that mostly fell cleanly along conservative-liberal lines in the highest court. Instead of empowering the courts to do anything to forestall the possibility of worse gerrymandering in the future, Chief Justice Roberts’s decision simply flings back the onus on making tough decisions about political gerrymandering to individual states and the legislative branch.

The trouble, as many liberals see it, is that the states have already shown a problematic level of political bias in redrawing districts for partisan advantage. What’s more, the legislative body is paralyzed by partisan gridlock and unable to pass a law that would fairly affect hundreds of different political races in the future. Nonetheless, Justice Roberts defended his decision by saying, “federal judges have…no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution [to make these kinds of decisions].”

Chief Justice Roberts further bemoaned the fact that, even if such a power were constitutionally granted to the federal courts, there are no legal standards by which to navigate the process of political redistricting decisions. Some liberals were frustrated with Chief Justice Robert’s punt on the issue of redistricting, which he seemed to rebut by saying that though some maps are “unjust,” the courts are powerless to do anything about that injustice. Many legal scholars see Chief Justice Roberts’s decisive call in the 5-4 case as highly concerning moving forward.

The Supreme Court’s recent decision makes the upcoming 2020 elections that much more pivotal in the sense that new districts are slated to be drawn for the next decade. The state legislatures help in drawing many of the U.S. House of Representatives’s districts, so the Supreme Court’s recent decision has certainly added more weight to this upcoming round of elections.

In effect, Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts’s decision places more emphasis on the power of state legislatures and other non-judicial bodies to make these weighty redistricting decisions, though they’ve largely failed to remain non-partisan in the past. Hundreds of 2020 elections now have added political import.

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