Legislative Solutions Exist to Ensure Fair Maps
Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Rucho v. League of Women Voters of North Carolina that no fair test exists for courts to determine when partisan gerrymandering has gone too far. In its 5-4 decision on Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government does not have the authority to block the election maps drawn up by state lawmakers, no matter how partisan the motivation behind the maps’ composition might be.
Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s other conservatives said gerrymandered election maps created by North Carolina Republicans and Maryland Democrats are constitutional despite being drawn along partisan lines.
“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,” Roberts wrote for the majority.
SCOTUS gerrymandering case: Supreme Court says federal courts cannot strike down partisan maps
Associate Justice Kagan delivered the dissent and slammed the ruling, writing, “Of all the times to abandon the court’s duty to declare the law, this was not the one. “The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government,” she said.
The League of Women Voters of North Carolina:
“Today’s decision is devastating to the voters in North Carolina who have lived with unconstitutional districts in the last four federal elections,” said Janet Hoy, co-president of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and a named plaintiff in the case. “While we were hopeful that the Court would set a standard to address extreme gerrymandering cases like ours, we will continue to work on getting fair maps for North Carolinians through other means.”
In arguments, the League proposed a three-prong vote dilution test for determining when a partisan gerrymander has gone too far: clearly identifiable partisan intent on a per-district basis; with an effect that is district specific; and no legitimate purpose by a legislature.
“By failing to set a standard for this unconstitutional practice, the Court is essentially endorsing unfettered partisan gerrymandering,” said Allison Riggs, senior attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and co-counsel for the League who argued the case before the Supreme Court. “We are disappointed with this outcome, neither the League of Women Voters nor the Southern Coalition for Social Justice will be deterred in our fight for fair district maps.”
Rucho v. League of Women Voters of North Carolina was consolidated with Rucho v. Common Cause, a companion challenge to the North Carolina legislature, as well as Benisek v. Lamone, a redistricting case out of Maryland. The League of Women Voters of Maryland joined this case as amici.
“It is a great disappointment to the voters of Maryland that the Court did not set a standard this term when it comes to partisan gerrymandering,” said Lois Hybl, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Maryland. “Hearing these cases together was important for political balance. In Maryland, Democrats in power created the gerrymandered district to benefit their party. In North Carolina, it was the Republicans. We have seen both parties abuse this process that takes the power away from voters, and unfortunately, this trend may continue. We will continue to look for ways to level the playing field for voters in Maryland.”
Numerous lower courts have now easily applied the vote dilution test presented by the League’s counsel. However, today the Supreme Court failed to acknowledge the ease with which the test is applied, choosing not to use it here. Doing so would have satisfied the Court’s duty to enforce voters’ constitutional rights and put a check on extreme partisan gerrymandering.
“Today’s decision is a setback in the fight for fair maps around the country,” said Paul Smith, vice president at Campaign Legal Center, and counsel of record in Rucho v. League of Women Voters of North Carolina. “While we are disappointed that North Carolina voters will continue to vote in districts that were shown at trial to be severely biased, the fight is far from over. We must redouble our efforts outside the courtroom to put the voices of voters first. Independent citizen-led commissions, such as those passed in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Utah in 2018, have been highly successful in ensuring that district maps fairly represent the population. Reformers from other states should follow this lead and continue to fight back against gerrymandering.”
While some states are taking a proactive approach to gerrymandering with ballot measures, a wider solution exists in Congress. The For the People Act would create fair redistricting standards for the entire country.
“Today’s decision is a disappointment, and the court missed a crucial opportunity to strengthen our republic,” said Chris Carson, president of the board of directors of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “And it means we have more work to do. The League won’t back down until we have nationwide fair maps that work for everyone.”
Read the full text of the decision here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/18pdf/18-422_9ol1.pdf