Happy Independence Day, my friends.
But this is a sad time for our nation, as the Supreme Court of the United States has decided that it does not have the “authority” to resolve the problem of partisan gerrymandering.
In a 5-4 decision along ideological lines, the Supreme Court ruled that “partisan gerrymandering was a political question beyond the reach of the federal court.”
“There are no fair and manageable standards for judges to evaluate whether a gerrymander is constitutional,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority.
Article 3, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution states, “The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority.”
So why balk on this ruling?
Roberts’ justification was that “sometimes the law is that the Judiciary cannot entertain a claim because it presents a nonjusticiable ‘political question,’ Baker v. Carr, 369 U. S. 186, 217.”
In doing so, the Court has thrown the ball to state legislatures to enact rules concerning the partition of congressional seats per the decennial census, the next to be conducted in 2020 — that is if the president allows the census to be completed in time. (There is the still open deliberation as to the citizenship question.)
The Court also returned sole jurisdiction to state courts to determine if new districts are fairly drawn.
Gerrymandering is named after Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814), a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the fifth vice president of the United States, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the governor of Massachusetts.
To disadvantage the opposing party, his Democratic-Republican Party redrew the Massachusetts map of legislative districts in 1812 in a particularly dramatic, unusual and obvious partisan manner.
One district reminded a political cartoonist of a salamander and named the redistricting method “gerrymandering.”
What we see most often today is political gerrymandering, the drawing of congressional district lines in a manner that discriminates against one or more political parties.
In 2018, Missouri voters did vote into our constitution a provision to, hopefully, end political gerrymandering in our fair state. The populace overwhelmingly voted to pass “Amendment 1,” which did several things.
It changed lobbyist and campaign financing laws to be more restrictive. It also established the office of the nonpartisan state demographer, who is tasked with drawing state legislative districts without benefiting one party over another.
The state auditor will develop an application and choose three people to present to the Senate majority and minority leaders so they can select the new state demographer.
If the leaders cannot agree on the first three, more names will be added until an agreement is reached.
With that being said, allow me to return to the Court’s decision that gerrymandering is not a matter for the judiciary to determine.
Many disagree, believing that the Court’s ruling nullifies the will of the majority, for gerrymandering is designed to negate the voting power of one party over another.
Beginning in 1800, Article 1, Section 3, Clause 3 of the Constitution has required the government to take a census once every 10 years with the provision that “The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative … .”
Neither the Constitution nor any statute states exactly how the districts are to be drawn.
According to the Loyola Law School, federal laws “require equal population as nearly as is “practicable.” In practice, this means that states must make a good faith effort to draw districts with the same number of people in each.
Districts are required to be “substantially equal” in population. Nothing in the law says that the districts are to be politically fair.
The Court’s unwillingness to address the issue is confusing and, in my determination, wrongheaded. I am not the only one who thinks so. Op-eds from The Kansas City Star, The Wall Street Journal, NBC News, The Economist and others are best summarized by The New York Times headline “The Decision Drags the Supreme Court Further Into the Mud.”
Though we do not register by party in Missouri, a 2017 Gallup poll estimated that 31% of the national voting population is Democratic, while 24% are Republican and 42% consider themselves independent, though the majority of the last tend to vote Democratic.
Hopefully, Missouri’s new system will put an end to the monopoly the GOP has in both houses of the General Assembly, reflecting the true political nature of Missouri.
That is, unless the General Assembly’s majority GOP create a go-around by statute.