News. Debate. Community. Levers for a better democracy.

Judges have no role in evaluating partisan gerrymandering, Supreme Court rules

There is no constitutional limit to the use of political muscle in drawing legislative boundaries to favor the party in power, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

The decision is a landmark setback for those who view partisan gerrymandering as one of the biggest problems plaguing American democracy. Rather than work with new judicial tests for the limits lawmakers can go to in crafting congressional and state legislative district lines for partisan gain, advocates of redistricting reform will instead need to redouble their efforts to drain politics out of electoral mapmaking state by state.

Partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions "beyond the reach of the federal courts," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the 5-4 majority: "None of the proposed tests for evaluating partisan gerrymandering claims meets the need for a limited and precise standard that is judicially discernable and manageable."

The justices upheld congressional districts in North Carolina drawn by the GOP and in Maryland drawn by the Democrats. The ruling also casts in doubt decisions by lower federal courts this spring that held the Republican-dominated congressional maps in Ohio and Wisconsin were unconstitutional

The five conservative justices said that federal courts should defer to the will of state mapmakers because there exists no clear standard to determine when a map is so egregiously drawn in favor of one party that it violates the Constitution.

The court's four liberal justices disagreed, saying the court was obligated to intervene in cases when the state's majority party has drawn a map for the purposes of maintaining power.

"For the first time ever, this court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities," Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the dissenters. "The partisan gerrymanders in these cases deprived citizens of the most fundamental of their constitutional rights: the rights to participate equally in the political process, to join with others to advance political beliefs, and to choose their political representatives."

News. Community. Debate. Levers for better democracy.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a trio of democracy reform bills this week.

California governor signs three political reform bills

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on Tuesday three democracy reform bills focused on local redistricting, voting access and campaign contributions.

The first piece of legislation prohibits partisan gerrymandering at the local level by establishing criteria for cities and counties to use when adjusting district boundaries. While California is the largest state to use an independent redistricting commission to draw its congressional and state district maps, local districts did not have the same regulations.

Keep reading... Show less
Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Gov. Ralph Northam used his executive authority to restore voting rights for felons, noting that Virginia is among the states that permanently strips such rights after a felony conviction.

Virginia governor restores voting rights to over 22,000 felons

More than 22,000 Virginians with felony convictions have regained the right to vote thanks to executive actions taken by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam since he took office in January 2018, his office announced this week.

In a statement, Northam's office said he has so far restored the civil rights of 22,205 people who had been convicted of felonies and have since completed their sentences. Those civil rights include the right to vote as well as the right to serve on juries, run for public office and become a notary public.

Northam previously announced in February that nearly 11,000 convicted felons had their voting rights restored under his watch.

Keep reading... Show less