Court Battles

Supreme Court throws out challenge to Michigan electoral map

The Supreme Court, in another defeat for gerrymandering reformers, overturned a lower court's ruling that Michigan's electoral districts are overly partisan and need to be redrawn.

Monday's order follows a June decision from the nation's top court that found that questions related to partisan gerrymandering are not under the jurisdiction of federal courts.

The new order returns the case to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. A three-judge panel in that court had ruled that 34 state legislative and congressional districts needed to be redrawn because they were designed to favor Republicans.

The League of Women Voters and a group of Michigan voters had argued that GOP officials in the state had "engaged in a concerted effort to redraw district lines to benefit Republican candidates while disadvantaging their opponents."

The three-judge district court panel agreed, writing, "Federal courts' failure to protect marginalized voters' constitutional rights will only increase the citizenry's growing disenchantment with, and disillusionment in, our democracy, further weaken our democratic institutions, and threaten the credibility of the judicial branch."

The case had been put on hold by the Supreme Court as it considered similar challenges in Maryland and North Carolina, which led to the sweeping decision earlier this year and all but guaranteed that the challenge in Michigan would fail.

The decision in June was decided by the court's 5-4 majority of Republican-appointed justices. Their opinion, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, argued that questions about redistricting should be left to politicians and not federal judges.

"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 in the decision.

"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."

In the cases, Democrats in North Carolina had challenged congressional districts which were drawn by Republicans. In the Maryland case, Republicans claimed that Democrats in their state had politically drawn the district maps to eliminate a GOP seat.

In their dissent, the four liberal justices accused their colleagues of abdicating the court's responsibility of safeguarding the democratic process.

"These gerrymanders enabled politicians to entrench themselves in office as against voters' preferences," they wrote. "They promoted partisanship above respect for the popular will. They encouraged a politics of polarization and dysfunction. If left unchecked, gerrymanders like the ones here may irreparably damage our system of government."

The Supreme Court's ruling that federal courts cannot weigh in on partisan gerrymandering cases was blasted by activists, who have sought to advance their fight against politically-drawn maps in the courts.

Former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder, chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, at the time called the decision one which "tears at the fabric of our democracy."

--Updated at 2:57 p.m.

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