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SCOTUS Declines To Step In On Partisan Redistricting Fights

States can no longer turn to federal courts to resolve claims of partisan gerrymandering. In a 5-4 decision Thursday the U.S. Supreme Court said political redistricting fights are beyond the scope of the federal judiciary. The decision does not affect a recent court decision to overturn Virginia’s Republican-drawn, House of Delegates map that a federal court ruled was racially gerrymandered.

SCOTUS tossed complaints of partisan gerrymandering in Maryland and North Carolina. Justices said while partisan gerrymandering is bad, there are no legal standards in the U.S. Constitution to determine just how bad it has to be in order to be struck down.

“And it is only after determining how to define fairness that you can even begin to answer the determinative question: “How much is too much?” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion. “At what point does permissible partisanship become unconstitutional?”

Brian Cannon called the court’s decision frustrating and disappointing. He’s executive director of OneVirginia2021, which advocates for non-partisan redistricting in Virginia. “Justice Kagan points out correctly that it’s the first time that the court has found something unconstitutional but said they couldn’t do anything to fix it,” Cannon said.

Federal courts can still take up racial gerrymandering complaints because race is a constitutionally protected class. Cannon said the SCOTUS ruling means efforts to move toward a non-partisan redistricting process are critical. “The work we’re doing in Virginia, the work they’re doing in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina is even more important because this is the only path we have left,” Cannon said. “Those judicial robes don’t double as superhero capes.”

The Virginia General Assembly gave initial approval to a constitutional amendment that would form a bipartisan redistricting commission. It needs to pass the legislature one more time before going to voters in November 2020 before redistricting starts again in 2021.

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Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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