Rucho v. Common Cause
The US Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 decision in late June, 2019 that extreme partisan gerrymandering is a “political question” to be resolved in Congress, state legislatures, state courts or state ballot initiatives, in other words anywhere else but not in the federal courts.
In North Carolina, the state legislature and Governor carved up the districts to assure and preserve a 10-3 Republican majority that succeeded even when Democrats won 50% of the votes statewide. In Maryland, the Democratic legislature and Governor carved up the state’s 6th district by moving half the voters into other neighboring districts turning a heavily Republican district into a heavily Democratic one and converting a 5-2 partisan split into a 6-1 split. A number of other states such as Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania with complete Republican control did likewise after the 2010 census and Republican tsunami. Redistricting map drawing consultants have refined their products to a highly predictive science which takes any genuine democratic competition out of far too many legislative elections.
Both the majority and minority agreed it's a pernicious and dangerous practice and ought to be fixed. Chief Justice Roberts said it’s a political question, and Congress and the states should fix it because the federal courts have no Constitutional jurisdiction to do so. Justice Kagan said where there’s expressed intent and impact to disempower voters of the legislative minority party and no compelling state interest other than partisan advantage, it's the federal courts’ duty to protect the sanctity of one man one vote from hyper partisan line drawing so that voters choose their legislator not legislators their voters. She was skeptical that Congress or those states without recourse to citizens’ initiatives would ever act, leaving their legislative gerrymanders in place in perpetuity. Unsurprisingly, Justice Kavanagh was the decisive 5th vote for the court’s majority.
The problem with the extreme political gerrymandering now being practiced so effectively with the aid of computers and big data (it’s both parties) is that the contested elections happen only during low turnout party primaries and not in the higher turnout general elections between the parties. This results in greater dominance by voters to the extreme left or right of their parties -- progressive democrats and tea party republicans. When they get into Congress, compromises are nearly impossible, divisiveness is the norm, and legislative stalemates are commonplace, long standing and pervasive. Our country cannot make progress on the important issues facing it due to dysfunctional governance. It’s not just the incompetent and chaotic President, it’s a polarized Congress that’s unable to pass the sorts of common sense reforms from gun safety to health care, from climate change to homelessness, from opioid addictions to immigration reforms to better balanced budgets on which there are widespread public sentiment and agreement for action. In the absence of healthy two party competition, you can end up with decades or even a century of self-perpetuating one party rule in a state or region; corruption may run rampant; economic development may stagnate, and interwoven party elites may govern without adequate checks or balances.
Under HR 1, which has passed the House, states would be required to have independent commissions draw the lines for legislators’ districts. https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/five-ways-hr-1-would-transform-redistricting This is what California and several other states have already done under voter initiated state referendums. The results during the wave election of 2018 were astonishing in those states with competitive districts due to redistricting reforms.
As you might expect, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell refuses to take up the matter for consideration. You might want to write your Senator about taking the partisanship out of line drawing for legislative districts, which is a once a decade process coming up after the 2020 census is completed. You need to consider getting involved in the state by state fights to reform redistricting as well.
Prepared by: Lucien Wulsin