The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a pair of lower court decisions striking down congressional districts on the basis of partisan gerrymandering and ruled that such claims are non-justiciable. The districts drawn by a Democrat-controlled process in Maryland and a Republican-controlled process in North Carolina will stand for the 2020 election, and their respective cases have been remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.
“Partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority opinion (PDF). “Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions.”
Roberts wrote that this decision “does not condone excessive partisan gerrymandering, nor does our conclusion condemn complaints about districting to echo into a void.” States “are actively addressing the issue on a number of fronts” and Congress has “the power to do something about partisan gerrymandering.”
The majority found that none of the proposed tests for evaluating partisan gerrymandering “meets the need for a limited and precise standard that is judicially discernable and manageable, and none provides a solid grounding for judges to take the extraordinary step of reallocating power and influence between political parties.”
The ruling does not affect claims based on racial gerrymandering or violations of the one person-one vote principle.
Writing for the minority, Justice Elena Kagan said the majority does not dispute that “gerrymandering is incompatible with democratic principles,” yet it goes “tragically wrong” when it does nothing about it. “For the first time ever, this Court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities.”
U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Fort Worth) criticized the ruling, saying it “opens the floodgates for state legislatures to continue to pick voters instead of their voters choosing who represents them.”
Last year, the Court punted the Maryland case and a similar case from Wisconsin, ruling on narrow grounds of standing and process. The Court ruled last year on a Texas case, striking down HD90 based on claims of racial gerrymandering but otherwise overturning lower-court rulings. The district has since been redrawn to the satisfactions of the parties to the case.
In another high-profile case, the Court ruled that the Commerce Dept. provided a “contrived” reason for wanting to include a question about U.S. citizenship on the 2020 Census form sent to every household. Roberts wrote the majority opinion (PDF), which was unanimous in part and highly fractured in the rest.
“Agencies must pursue their goals reasonably,” Roberts wrote. “Reasoned decision-making under the Administrative Procedure Act calls for an explanation for agency action. What was provided here was more of a distraction.”
The Commerce Dept. indicated the citizenship question was added to the Census form following a request from the Justice Dept., which believed its inclusion would help it enforce the Voting Rights Act. Evidence indicated this justification was added “late in the process” and the decision had been made “well before” the Justice Dept. requested it for reasons that did not pertain to the Voting Rights Act.
However, the Court’s majority agreed the question could be asked if a new, “genuine justification” is offered. A deadline to print the forms is rapidly approaching, leaving some doubt as to whether a new justification could be created and adjudicated before then.
Other Election News
Saturday is Election Day in South Padre Island, Tyler and a handful of other jurisdictions holding runoff elections. We will not be providing live coverage and will instead update subscribers on Monday morning.
CD31: Cedar Park tech entrepreneur Donna Imam established a campaign committee for a potential challenge of U.S. Rep. John Carter (R-Round Rock) as a Democrat. Imam plans to kick off her campaign on July 4 in Round Rock.
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