Most politicians of both major parties love gerrymandering. “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly and politicians gotta gerrymander” seems to be their philosophy.
This past week, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court conceded that gerrymandering undermines the confidence that voters of both parties have in our democracy but, alas, they feel they are powerless to stop it.
Good luck, America. You are on your own here.
People who are not politicians, just concerned citizens, had hoped that the high court would use a case challenging the 2011 redrawing of Maryland’s 6th Congressional District to end this egregious practice.
That year, Democrats in control of the General Assembly and the State House redrew the congressional map to get rid of Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, and they succeeded.
Democrats have held the 6th District seat ever since. Republicans living in the district sued, charging they were disenfranchised, as they were.
But the court’s Republican-appointed majority decided 5-4 that the map drawn by Democrats to oust a Republican congressman will be allowed to stand.
Maryland Republicans are sacrificial lambs to the national party’s success in gerrymandering in so many other states, where GOP redistricting was even more brutal and more successful.
Look to North Carolina, where Democrats won more than half of the votes for Congress in 2018 but once again won only three of 13 House seats.
The Maryland case was one of two before the court. It and one from Wisconsin, which disenfranchised Democratic voters there, seemed to offer the court a chance to strike down partisan gerrymandering by both parties. The conservatives took a pass.
“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, though he conceded that “Excessive partisanship in districting leads to results that reasonably seem unjust.”
So, we are faced with a practice that denies people their constitutional right to representation in government, but the court does not think it can do anything about it?
That’s especially hard to believe coming from a court that has been more than aggressive in such things as extending rights to corporations in free speech cases and to opponents of same-sex marriage in cases involving religious freedom, and limiting the role of unions in labor cases. Only this time, the justices throw up their hands and cry “We’re powerless!”
In a blistering dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote: “[F]or the first time ever, this Court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities.”
Her opinion neatly summarizes our thinking, about the Maryland case and the whole issue:
“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. In so doing, the partisan gerrymanders here debased and dishonored our democracy, turning upside-down the core American idea that all governmental power derives from the people. These gerrymanders enabled politicians to entrench themselves in office as against voters’ preferences. They promoted partisanship above respect for the popular will. They encouraged a politics of polarization and dysfunction. If left unchecked, gerrymanders like the ones here may irreparably damage our system of government.”
This is the very real danger to our democracy that the conservative majority seems perfectly fine with.
In our view, it’s cynicism at its worst.