SPONSORED:

Supreme Court finds that courts can't rule on partisan gerrymandering cases

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Thursday that political partisan gerrymandering cases are outside the purview of federal courts, a decision that underscored the ideological divide among the nine justices and is sure to have lasting implications.

The ruling was met with almost immediate outcry from Democrats and anti-gerrymandering activists, and is a major blow for those who sought to challenge in court politically-drawn district maps that they believed to be unconstitutional.

ADVERTISEMENT

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court's majority opinion that federal courts cannot consider partisan gerrymandering cases.

"Excessive partisanship in districting leads to results that reasonably seem unjust. But the fact that such gerrymandering is 'incompatible with democratic principles,' does not mean that the solution lies with the federal judiciary," Roberts wrote.

"We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts. 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."

Conservative Justices Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasPlaintiff and defendant from Obergefell v. Hodges unite to oppose Barrett's confirmation The Senate should evoke RBG in its confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court's Pennsylvania mail ballot tie tees up test for Barrett MORE, Samuel AlitoSamuel AlitoPlaintiff and defendant from Obergefell v. Hodges unite to oppose Barrett's confirmation Supreme Court's Pennsylvania mail ballot tie tees up test for Barrett Supreme Court denies GOP bid to block extended mail ballot due date in Pennsylvania MORE, Neil GorsuchNeil GorsuchSupreme Court's Pennsylvania mail ballot tie tees up test for Barrett 51 percent want Barrett seated on Supreme Court: poll Supreme Court denies GOP bid to block extended mail ballot due date in Pennsylvania MORE and Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughGOP clears key hurdle on Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, setting up Monday confirmation Murkowski says she will vote to confirm Barrett to Supreme Court on Monday Collins says running as Independent 'crossed my mind' MORE joined Roberts' majority opinion.

Justices Elena KaganElena KaganSupreme Court reinstates ban on curbside voting in Alabama Key moments from Barrett's marathon question-and-answer session Barrett fight puts focus on abortion in 2020 election MORE, Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgSenate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Democratic senator votes against advancing Amy Coney Barrett nomination while wearing RBG mask GOP clears key hurdle on Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, setting up Monday confirmation MORE, Stephen BreyerStephen BreyerSupreme Court reinstates ban on curbside voting in Alabama The Senate should evoke RBG in its confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court hears landmark B copyright fight between Oracle, Google MORE and Sonia SotomayorSonia SotomayorSupreme Court reinstates ban on curbside voting in Alabama Supreme Court grants Trump request to halt 2020 census Amy Coney Barrett tells Senate panel she signed ad decrying Roe v. Wade as 'infamous' MORE — the court's liberal members — dissented.

The ruling opens the door for instances of partisan gerrymandering in district maps to be upheld across the country – a possibility that Justice Elena Kagan decried in a stinging dissent.

"For the first time ever, this court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities," Kagan wrote. 

"In giving such gerrymanders a pass from judicial review, the majority goes tragically wrong," she added.

Kagan underscored her level of opposition to the ruling by reading part of her dissent from the bench.

The justices made the ruling in a pair of cases presented over district maps in Maryland and North Carolina, alleged to be instances of unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders.

Democrats in North Carolina had challenged congressional districts drawn by Republicans, claiming that the state GOP crafted the map to favor their party. And Republicans in Maryland had claimed that the state’s map was drawn in such a way that it intentionally eliminated a GOP congressional seat.

Thursday's ruling also means pending litigation challenging other states' congressional districts as partisan gerrymanders are all but certain to fail.

The justices were weighing district maps in Ohio and Michigan that were also challenged as instances of partisan gerrymandering, but this ruling signals that the cases will also be dismissed.

Democrats quickly came out against the decision, as did voting rights groups, claiming that it sets a dangerous precedent and allows state maps to be restructured at the will of whichever political party controls the state legislature.

Former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderAlarm grows over Trump team's efforts to monitor polls The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden on Trump: 'He'll leave' l GOP laywers brush off Trump's election remarks l Obama's endorsements Obama endorses Warnock in crowded Georgia Senate race MORE, who has focused on fighting partisan gerrymandering since leaving office, decried the ruling.

"This decision tears at the fabric of our democracy and puts the interests of the established few above the many," he said Thursday. "History will not be kind in its assessment."