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SCOTUS Stays Orders in Gerrymandering Cases

The detailed map of the USA including Alaska and Hawaii. The United States of America
By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

The U.S. Supreme Court stayed orders in two gerrymandering cases from Michigan and Ohio, apparently to give the court time to decide similar pending cases.

In cases from North Carolina and Maryland, the Supreme Court is pondering various issues, including whether federal judges have the power to intervene when state lawmakers create voting districts that favor one party over another. Rulings are expected in those cases by the end of June. The decisions will likely guide how the Supreme Court deals with the issues in Michigan and Ohio. It is an apparent setback for Democrats, but this could be bad news for partisan gerrymandering everywhere.

Partisan Gerrymandering

Federal courts had determined the electoral maps in Michigan and Ohio were unconstitutional, partisan gerrymandering. The boundaries were manipulated in a way that kept Republicans in power, so the courts ordered legislators to redraw the maps before the 2020 elections. In Ohio, Republicans control 12 out of 16 congressional seats with 52 percent of the statewide vote. In Michigan, an appeals court said maps in 34 congressional and state legislative districts favored Republicans. It was a two-state win for Democrats.

But then Republicans asked the Supreme Court to put those decisions on hold. In brief orders, the justices obliged them without explanation. While the cases have everything to do with politics, the decisions to stay have little to do with it. Ohio and Michigan simply have to wait for the decisions in North Carolina and Maryland. Erwin Chemerinsky, the constitutional scholar and Berkeley law school dean, said those pending cases could be "the most important cases of the term."

Most Important Cases

Writing for the ABA Journal, Chemerinsky said partisan gerrymandering is not new. But Rucho v. Common Cause and Lamone v. Benisek, he says, pose one of the most significant issues in American democracy: "Can the political party that controls the legislature draw election districts to maximize safe seats for itself?" In the last term, the Supreme Court reversed a partisan gerrymandering case because the plaintiffs did not show their "particularized injuries." The concurring justices condemned partisan gerrymandering as "incompatible with democratic principles," and encouraged the plaintiffs to come back with better evidence.

Despite the stays in Michigan and Ohio, the Supreme Court may be poised to strike a bigger blow to partisan gerrymandering everywhere. But, according to Chemerinsky, the Supreme Court will have to deal with standing and justiciability in North Carolina and Maryland first.

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