This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the day.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Thursday that neither it nor any other federal courts have the ability to decide cases related to claims of partisan gerrymandering.
In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said that the court was abondoning its “duty” and that current gerrymandering policies endangered “free and fair elections.”
What is gerrymandering?
Periodically states do what is known as redistricting, where congressional districts are redrawn to reflect changing populations. An area that experienced rapid growth might be redrawn into two districts for example, while one that experience a decrease in population might be split and merged with other districts.
Gerrymandering occurs when the party in charge of the state deliberately draws these lines in order to better ensure its own majority. Both major political parties have been accused of using gerrymandering. Recently, a number of districts that were redrawn after the Republican state legislature wave in 2010 have been challenged in both state and federal courts. Thursday’s decision means that all Federal court reviews of these decisions will be thrown out.
What did the court say?
This case specifically dealt with gerrymandering cases in North Carolina and Maryland. In the first case, the gerrymandering favored Republicans, and in the second case it favored Democrats.
While both parties use gerrymandering, Republicans have been more effective at using it to their advantage since 2010. Because of that, this ruling could help ensure Republican gains in Congress.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that “[p]artisan gerrymandering was known in the Colonies prior to Independence and the Framers were familiar at it at the time of the drafting and ratification of the Constitution.”
He added that “the history is not irrelevant. The Framers were aware of electoral districting problems and considered what to do about them. They settled on a characteristic approach, assigning the issue to the state legislatures, expressly checked and balanced by the Federal Congress….At no point was there a suggestion that the federal courts had a role to play. Nor was there any indication that the Framers had ever heard of courts doing such a thing.”
Roberts, Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Thomas, and Alito argued that if there was to be a change in gerrymandering laws, that rested with either Congress or the states themselves.
But Justice Kagan, who was joined in her dissent by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor, claimed that partisan gerrymandering “deprived citizens of the constitutional rights: the rights to participate equally in the political process, to join with others to advance political believes, and to choose their political representatives.”