The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that it — and all federal courts — lack the authority to review the composition of voting districts. The natural corollary, of course, is that Americans no longer should make legal challenges to gerrymandered districts that obviously are discriminatory.
The court got it wrong, and that should be obvious to any American who values honest elections.
In its 5-4 majority decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that even though oddly drawn voting or legislative districts might create a disadvantage for specific demographic groups, the process is a political one, and must be dealt with politically rather than litigiously.
Roberts acknowledged that the districts in question were discriminatory. In one of the two cases under review, congressional votes in the 2016 North Carolina general election were split almost 50-50.However, since the Republican-controlled legislature had drawn districts to isolate Democrats and give its party majorities in most districts, it captured 10 of the 13 congressional seats.
“Excessive partisanship in districting leads to results that reasonably seem unjust,” the chief justice admitted.
“Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions,” he continued.
In other words, voters and elected officials should provide the remedies to unfair districting.
But that’s the very point of the challenge. Voters can’t influence such matters if their votes are rendered impotent by the very system they are expected to fix. And officials aren’t likely to change a system that is skewed in their favor.
It’s unknown whether the ruling might reverse the 2017 decision of a San Antonio federal panel that ruled several Texas districts drawn after the 2010 census were discriminatory and thus invalid. One of those districts affected northern Hidalgo County.
Analysts already predict that the ruling will embolden legislatures to increase strategic lineation of districts and make it even harder for minority party candidates to succeed.
Writing for the minority, Justice Elena Kagan rightly accused the court of abdicating its sworn responsibility.
“In the face of grievous harm to democratic governance and flagrant infringements on individuals’ rights — in the face of escalating partisan manipulation whose compatibility with this nation’s values and law no one defends — the majority declines to provide any remedy,” Kagan wrote. “For the first time in this nation’s history, the majority declares that it can do nothing about an acknowledged constitutional violation because it has searched high and low and cannot find a workable legal standard to apply.”
Our nation was built on the idea that the people should decide their own fate. That — and any democracy — depends on fair elections. Allowing a political party to commandeer the results of those elections and override the will of the people weakens democracy — and our nation as a whole.