The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled federal courts cannot judge if extreme partisan gerrymandering violates the constitution.
This 5-4 ruling along conservative-liberal ideological lines allows Ohio and some other states to continue using current congressional maps through the 2020 election.
"We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts," Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the conservative majority. "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."
The court considered a Maryland case, where Democrats who controlled the state legislature drew lines for congressional districts that eliminated two Republican seats in the U.S. House. A North Carolina case where Republicans used the same methods to limit Democratic power.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said he was not surprised by the ruling but is disappointed.
“This is also one of the many reasons I think [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell was so intent on keeping Merrick Garland from being a Supreme Court Justice because it is a 5-4 case. The divide is very clear and that would have changed the outcome of this case. So it’s disappointing that we will now be stuck with rigged elections,” Pepper said.
The appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh is thought to have swung the court in a more conservative direction. His predecessor, Justice Anthony Kennedy, was thought to be more open to acting on gerrymandering cases.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost praised the decision. saying Ohio voters already elected to redesign the line drawing process to take affect after the 2020 election.
“This is a political problem and it needs a political solution. And fortunately, Ohio voters have already elected to redesign our line drawing process with a constitutional amendment, the way it ought to be done. The power to legislate belongs to the legislature or the people, not the courts," Yost said.
Yost said this decision is in line with those principles.
The ACLU of Ohio had fought the map in the lower courts. The group’s legal director, Freda Levenson, said this court ruling is “profoundly disappointing because it will allow gerrymander to continue, unabated, in Ohio and around the country.” She said this sets the precedent that gerrymandering will not receive judicial review in the future.
Levenson said this ruling makes it all the more important that Ohio’s new redistricting process, which her group didn’t support or oppose, result in maps that are fair to all voters.
“It allows the drawing of a gerrymandered map to favor the map drawers," Levenson said.
She explained the new process could allow gerrymandered maps to be drawn because it still allows counties and cities to continue to be split to maximize political gain. She said it is up to citizens to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Ohio League of Women Voters President Jen Miller said her group, which supported the new map drawing process, is looking forward to implemented it in 2021.
“It will bring a lot more sunshine to the process where the people of Ohio will be able to see the map making process in better detail, will be able to participate as the public and will encourage bipartisan support,” Miller said.
The voter approved map drawing process will be used to draw a new map for the 2022 election.