Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

U.S. Supreme Court won’t wade into partisan gerrymandering; NC 2016 congressional map stands

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.

“The initial difficulty in settling on a ‘clear, manageable and politically neutral’ test for fairness is that it is not even clear what fairness looks like in this context,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the 5-4 opinion. “There is a large measure of ‘unfairness’ in any winner-take-all system.

“Any judicial decision on what is ‘fair’ in this context would be an ‘unmoored determination’ of the sort characteristic of a political question beyond the competence of the federal courts.”

The 5-4 opinion along party lines drives a nail into the coffin of an issue that has long plagued North Carolina and other state legislatures that use political data as a major consideration in the redistricting process to entrench its political party in power.

Attorneys argued the sibling cases at the high court in March, Rucho v. Common Cause and Rucho v. League of Women Voters, in March, but partisan gerrymandering has been an ongoing battle in North Carolina for years. The nonjusticiable ruling also applies to the Democratic partisan gerrymandering case from Maryland, Benisek v. Lamone.

Today’s outcome has been described by voting rights advocates and attorneys arguing against partisan gerrymandering as the worst possible outcome for democracy.

All four Democrat-appointed justices dissented in the opinion, which Justice Elena Kagan wrote.

“Of all times to abandon the Court’s duty to declare the law, this was not the one,” she wrote. “The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government. Part of the Court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections.”

Partisan gerrymandering also is being challenged in the state courts – Common Cause v. Lewis is set for trial July 15. If the case makes it up to the state Supreme Court, there is still a chance partisan gerrymandering could be outlawed in North Carolina.

This is a breaking news story. You can read an updated version here.

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