Supreme Court sidesteps major rulings in gerrymandering cases

Supreme Court sidesteps major rulings in gerrymandering cases

The unanimous ruling was a compromise that sidestepped the biggest issues and didn't resolve whether a voting district can be so partisan it violates the Constitution.

Proceedings in both cases will continue in lower courts. In 2004, the court upheld the practice of gerrymandering in a case concerning Pennsylvania's map, finding that the practice of gerrymandering was outside the court's purview and "nonjusticiable".

The justices ruled against Wisconsin Democrats who challenged legislative districts that gave Republicans a huge edge in the state legislature.

The Supreme Court case focused on whether a federal court should have immediately blocked Maryland election officials from holding congressional elections under the new map.

In Wisconsin, the Supreme Court said the plaintiffs in the case didn't have enough standing to challenge the statewide assembly maps.

The justices sent the case back to a lower court to give the challengers another chance to argue that their lawsuit should be able to proceed, at least with regard to the suing voters' own districts.

In Maryland, the court declined to engage on the merits of the case. A partisan gerrymandering challenge to North Carolina's congressional map is one of the cases on the list for a possible hearing next Supreme Court term.

In an email to HuffPost, Whitford pointed to several measures passed since 2012 by Wisconsin lawmakers who were elected under those arguably unconstitutional maps.

After Monday's ruling, there still is no answer to that question.

Writing for the court in the Wisconsin case, Chief Justice John Roberts said that the statewide mathematical theory advanced by the challenging voters did not prove that each legislative district was drawn with partisan intent that diluted the rights of voters in every district.

A citizen's right to vote, Roberts said, is embodied in his right to vote for his representative, not in an abstract interest in the overall make-up of the legislature. That case can now move through the lower courts.

"Courts have a critical role to play in curbing partisan gerrymandering", Kagan wrote in her opinion.

In practice, this means that upcoming elections in both states will proceed using the current maps.

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In fact, the Roberts opinion for the court decided as little as possible, leaving nearly everything to be decided another day. Most election law experts seemed to think that the best vehicle for a decision in the next year or two would be a case from North Carolina now sitting on the court's docket, which the justices could hear as early as next term.

As for what standard will govern in the near future, Roberts's opinion essentially left all options open.

Some experts were more sanguine than others about the court's readiness to act. The justices could decide in coming weeks to accept that appeal, which would be argued in the court's next term starting in October. "Whether he will, I'm not all that certain".

Hasen added, "This was really the golden opportunity for him to decide these cases".

"It's sort of weird, because we didn't lose but we didn't really win either".

The cases, out of Wisconsin and Maryland, had the potential to reshape political maps across the country by sanctioning or restricting states' ability to draw districts for one party's political advantage. But the decisions present the next-best alternative: the avoidance of a harsh ruling that would close off all partisan gerrymandering claims in the future and a little bit of direction on how to bring a successful lawsuit.

In the long run, he said, "we're going to see this as really the dam breaking and an extraordinary opportunity to clean up the unfairness of our political system".

While there is a tendency among the judiciary to keep a certain distance from the political process-as a co-equal branch of government and separation of powers-the fact remains that the Court is not seeking to rebalance the most glaring anti-democratic features in the fundamentals that shape the electoral process.

"It's the Wild West out there", said Keith Gaddie, a University of Oklahoma elections professor.

The Maryland case arrived at the Supreme Court because a District Court did not grant a preliminary injunction, which would have essentially thrown out the state's old map before a proper ruling.

Kagan also addressed a legal route that Kennedy has previously suggested based on the First Amendment right of association held by political parties and their members. As Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States, told The Washington Post, "Today's decision is yet another delay in providing voters with the power they deserve in our democracy".

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