The Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of Maryland and North Carolina’s gerrymandered district maps. More precisely, it ruled that it did not have the ability to pass judgment on whether or not a map is excessively gerrymandered along partisan lines.
Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged in the court’s opinion that the maps were “blatant examples of partisanship,” but the 5-4 conservative majority fell short of doing anything about it. Rather, the Court has retreated from what it considers the “political question” of drawing districts, throwing up its hands and claiming it can’t enforce a “manageable standard” of partisan gerrymandering. Never mind that the judiciary exists precisely to resolve issues when legislatures are compromised as an avenue of remedy, or that the Court has seen fit to enforce prohibitions on racial gerrymandering.
While there may be legitimate questions about whether the maps at issue are allowed by the equal protection clause of the constitution, partisan gerrymandering is unquestionably antithetical to the spirit of democracy. By drawing district lines just right, the ruling party can ensure that even if the majority of voters vote one way, the majority of districts will go the way they want, usually arranging for a few districts to have close to one hundred percent minority voters, and split up most of the minority voters across many other districts, such that they do not have enough to win in any one of them.
The obvious problem is that of unearned majorities ruling legislatures, like in Wisconsin where 54 percent of the electorate voted Democrat for state assembly in 2018, yet Republicans ended up with 63 of 99 districts. There is also the less-obvious problem of uncompetitive elections, which breed complacency. Elected officials in safe seats have a lot less reason to respond to the needs of their constituents, regardless of party, than those who regularly face serious opponents from another party.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked the right question in a similar 2017 case in which the Court also declined to rule on the constitutionality of a state’s maps, Wisconsin in that case. “Could you tell me what the value is to democracy from political gerrymandering? How does that help our system of government?”
The Republican defense for gerrymandered district maps has generally been, “it’s not about race, it’s about political advantage.” But their inability to articulate an affirmative rationale for gerrymandering is an admission of how totally uncommitted they are to democracy. Republicans see the right to draw districts as part of the spoils of political victory rather than as a duty they have to voters.
Voters should choose their politicians, not the other way around.
With this decision, the court rubber stamps a rigged system that shuts everyday Americans out of meaningful political power. Even most wealthy business people and investors understand that in the long run, living in a country with lots of people having no political power is not in their long term best interests.
Mr. Morris Pearl is a former managing director at BlackRock, Inc. and chairman of the Patriotic Millionaires.