Protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court in April, when justices heard oral arguments regarding the inclusion of a citizenship question in the census. The court is expected to rule on that case, and redistricting cases, this week.
Landmark rulings in the two biggest disputes before the Supreme Court, each with enormous consequences for the cause of better democracy, are coming by the end of the week.
The justices will next announce decisions Wednesday, and probably the day or two after. Four cases were decided Monday, meaning eight are still up in the air – including potentially historic challenges to partisan congressional gerrymandering and a citizenship question on the census.
It's rare for the court to climax its term with a pair of rulings that get to the heart of such similar questions, in this instance about the constitutionally permissible reach of politics in setting the ground rules for representative government. Whether the back-to-back opinions from the court, now with a clear-cut 5-4 conservative majority, amount to a unified message or mixed signals could determine for decades how deeply partisanship can permeate the system.
At a minimum, the decisions will have fundamental consequences on elections for Congress and the state legislatures, and on the annual distribution of billions of dollars in federal aid to the states.
Advocates for a more functional democracy care deeply about both cases.
Gerrymandering for partisan advantage has been a game only politicians could play. The Supreme Court is poised to decide if those contests can continue under the currently loose rules. But whatever the outcome, mapmaking like a professional will become a pastime the whole family can enjoy.
That's because of Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering Game, produced by three board game enthusiasts from a politically engaged family in Texas. It's been issued ($40 on Calenders.com or Amazon) just in time for a landmark ruling, expected this week, on whether there's a constitutional limit to the cartographic contortions both parties employ to capture as many congressional seats as possible.
While players of the game handle their balsa wood pieces for half an hour at a time, the justices are handling something much less tangible – but with consequences that could last decades.
Last month, I was honored to testify before the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress.
I represented the 24th District of Texas for 13 terms in the House, and for 26 years I was a member of the Rules Committee. I also served on the Budget and House Administration committees. I was Democratic Caucus chairman for four years and chaired the Caucus Rules Committee for 10.
Congress has been on my mind for much of my adult life.
Solid majorities support many of the most prominent proposals for making democracy work better, but in almost all cases Democrats are bigger boosters than Republicans, Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling shows.
But the latest poll, out Friday, also adds to the roster of national opinion surveys laying bare how Americans have lost faith in their government's ability to address the nation's big challenges.
Almost two-thirds of respondents expressed that sentiment. And, in a rare bipartisan accord, those saying the nation's best years have passed outnumber those confident in a brighter future, 51 percent to 44 percent, with Democrats, Republicans and independents all statistically in sync in those views.
Of the 1,000 adults surveyed two weeks ago, just 44 percent professed belief in the nation's capacity to overcome political divisions to solve problems, while 53 percent said it could not.