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Supreme Court OK's Partisan Gerrymandering

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected challenges to politically gerrymandered voting districts, saying the courts have no say over such political issues.

In a decision divided along ideological lines, the justices favored neither Republicans nor Democrats from two states involved in Rucho v. Common Cause. Republicans controlled the voting districts in North Carolina, and Democrats had the advantage in Maryland.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said partisan gerrymandering presents a political question beyond the reach of the courts. Of course, that means entrenched political parties will be in control for the foreseeable future.

Political Gerrymandering

According to reports, the ruling delivered "a huge setback" to election reformers who are fighting a trend in state legislatures to draw voting districts that favor incumbent parties. They say partisan gerrymandering dilutes the voting power of people who support rivals.

Roberts, joined by his conservative colleagues, said that is not up to the courts. "We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts," he wrote.

In a dissent for the liberal minority of the court, Justice Elena Kagan said gerrymandering violates the constitutional rights of hundreds of thousands of voters. "The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government," she said.

It was an emotional moment for Kagan, as she read her opinion with her voice breaking. She expressed sadness, but also respect for the court.

Not Racial Gerrymandering

While the decision allows partisan gerrymandering to favor political parties, it does not extend to racial gerrymandering. The Supreme Court recently reiterated its message against racial gerrymandering in another case from Virginia.

In Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, the justices this month sent back a racial gerrymandering decision for a second time. The first time, the majority said 11 voting districts had to be re-examined for potential racial bias.

This time, a new majority said the challengers could not proceed without the attorney general -- a Democrat who represents the state. It was a notable decision in part because conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the liberal justices in the case.

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