The Supreme Court went one-for-two when it came to rulings Thursday that will have far-reaching implications.
It was disappointing to see justices rule 5-4 that federal courts have no role to play in ending the practice of gerrymandering — drawing congressional or statehouse districts for partisan advantage. We have long railed against the practice and had hoped the Supreme Court would stand up for voters, as it appears most politicians when presented with temptation cannot stop themselves from putting party before the people.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the issue was up to voters and elected officials, not the courts, and that drawing districts is “highly partisan by any measure.” However, we agree with Justice Elena Kagan in the dissent, “For the first time ever, this court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities.”
While the Supreme Court case dealt specifically with districts in Maryland and North Carolina, it effectively reverses the ruling of a three-member panel of federal judges in Ohio that had ordered a new map for the 2020 election, determining Republicans who controlled the redistricting process at the time unconstitutionally created districts to guarantee their party’s dominance — Ohio has just four Democrats in Congress and a dozen Republicans, even though the state has been traditionally thought of as purple and the overall vote totals between the parties were closer to even.
In many states, not just Ohio, districts can make little geographic or demographic sense, dividing counties and communities, such as the famed 9th Congressional district, also known as the “snake” district, which stretches along the northern border of the state from Toledo to Cuyahoga County. Gerrymandering is a key way to protect incumbents, particularly those further to the extremes, making compromise in Congress more challenging. And with advanced technology and voter tracking, the practice has taken a quantum leap in the wrong direction over the last decade.
Now Ohio voters will have to hope Issue 1 — passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2018 — will put a dent into gerrymandering. Among other provisions, it will limit how counties are split into multiple districts and require more support from the minority party to put a 10-year map in place — but if that fails the majority party can pass a shorter-term map. We truly hope the ballot initiative accomplishes what it sets out to and is a beacon of hope for citizens across the nation who want to be in districts where representatives must be attentive to the needs of all voters.
There was some good news from the Supreme Court Thursday, however. The justices ruled, in another 5-4 decision, that the Trump administration had not provided a good enough explanation for adding a question about citizenship to the upcoming U.S. Census. With Census forms set to begin being printed next week, it is unclear whether the administration will have time to re-litigate the issue, though the president tweeted Thursday that he has asked his lawyers if the Census can be delayed.
We previously argued against adding the citizenship question because the Census Bureau’s experts predicted millions of Hispanics and immigrants would go uncounted out of fear. Setting aside the more-than-suspect motivations behind seeking to depress the count of Hispanics and immigrants, it is crucial to have an accurate Census — and not just of citizens but all those living in the country.
Population questions not only affect representation at the state and federal level, but federal grant dollars to many communities and, as such, needs to be accurate, no matter how someone feels about immigration issues.