Justices: No definitive ruling on partisan districts

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Writing for the court in the Wisconsin case, Chief Justice John Roberts said electoral maps on a statewide basis can not be challenged as a whole.

Gill involves one of the most aggressive gerrymanders in the country, a Republican gerrymander that renders the Wisconsin state assembly virtually immune from democracy.

In Benisek, the court ruled that a preliminary injunction against the new Maryland redistricting rules would have violated the public interest, and so it upheld the relevant district court's decision to deny the requested injunction.

Two justices, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, would have dismissed the cases outright rather than sending them back to the lower courts. "But the Court is not responsible for vindicating generalized partisan preferences".

That the Supreme Court unanimously backed this anti-partisan view is a welcome sign. Ted Budd's bid for a second term in a district wedged between Winston-Salem and Charlotte, and Dan McCready, a solar energy entrepreneur and Marine veteran running against a former Baptist pastor, Mark Harris, who ousted Rep. And while the court did not close the door on eventual review of partisan gerrymanders, it put out no welcome map. "I am hopeful we will then step up to our responsibility to vindicate the Constitution against a contrary law".

Before Monday's decision, court watchers thought Kennedy might have found a standard that courts could use when deciding when states go too far in using politics to draw state lines.

In the meantime, the cases against extreme partisan gerrymandering will keep coming. The decision could make it more hard for challengers of the practice to bring cases in the future. The Maryland case challenged a single congressional district; the Wisconsin case involved the entire state legislative map. The term was named after the fifth vice president of the USA and former MA governor Elbridge Gerry, who redrew the map of the state senate's voting districts to weaken the opposing party in 1810.

Levitt says the hesitation from the U.S. Supreme Court, makes the decision from the Pennsylvania court more impactful.


In considering a Republican-drawn map from Wisconsin and a Democratic effort in Maryland, the court had raised the possibility of producing a landmark change in the way the nation's elections are conducted.

A political party gains considerable advantage when it gerrymanders district boundaries. That has largely favored Republicans during the past decade, as the justices heard in October when confronted by Wisconsin's partisan artistry. To recap, the state went Republican for the first time since 1984, and Hillary Clinton caught heat for not campaigning in Wisconsin at all during the general election. A lawsuit filed by North Carolina Democrats has plaintiffs in each of the state's 13 congressional districts.

"In this case the remedy that is proper and sufficient lies in the revision of the boundaries of the individual's own district", Roberts said. The justices were unanimous in saying the plaintiffs lacked the standing to sue, because the few plaintiffs had not proved their voting power in their own districts had been diluted. Worse, a district-by-district standard could potentially entrench existing gerrymanders, since a law dismantling a gerrymander will necessarily switch individual districts from one party's control to the other. In North Carolina a Democratic lawsuit is challenging its GOP-drawn map that was drawn explicitly to maintain Republicans' partisan advantage, after a previous map was thrown out for being a racial gerrymander.

"Obama and Holder and their liberal allies have raised millions of dollars to present the Supreme Court a case with no legal standing, and will continue to raise millions of dollars to tie up our courts to try to rig the system for Democrats and risk politicizing our judicial system". But there was no consensus on how to fix the problem or whether there was a constitutional principle at stake that justified the court's intervention in map drawing, which has traditionally been left to the states. Keenly aware of that ruling, the Wisconsin challengers offered a three-judge federal district court a three-part test. It took up two cases, one from Wisconsin, and the other from Maryland.

"Courts have a critical role to play in curbing partisan gerrymandering", Kagan wrote. Some of the maps in The Old Line State are so funky that one has been compared to a praying mantis.

That isn't the case everywhere.

Partisan breakdown: U.S. House: seven Democrats, one Republican. They had hoped the high court and swing Justice Anthony Kennedy would create a potent new tool in election litigation.

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