High court abandoned voters in gerrymandering case

After next year’s census the majority parties in most states will redraw legislative district boundaries that will be in place for a decade.

That work often leads to political gerrymandering — incumbents in charge drawing districts that all but ensure their party will garner enough votes to keep their majorities for the decade to come, while slicing and dicing up the other party’s boundaries in a manner that keeps them in the minority.

Many of the most egregious cases of rigging districts have been challenged in court with lower courts ruling that political partisanship was so obvious it violated equal protection and First Amendment rights.

That’s why there was optimism that the Supreme Court would put an end to the misuse of incumbent power to rig the maps in their favor.

But last week, writing for himself and four conservative colleagues in cases from North Carolina and Maryland, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. claimed the high court had no authority or business in deciding a “political” issue like gerrymandering.

While the two cases before the court included maps rigged by Democrats in one case and Republicans in the other, the number of unfairly drawn maps in the country have primarily been from Republican legislatures, following their sweep into the majority in many states during the last census.

Roberts, curiously, even claimed the smart, highly educated justices wouldn’t even be able to judge if a map was drawn unfairly because there are different definitions of fairness.

Actually, lower courts and citizens have had no problem recognizing when gerrymandering is done to disenfranchise voters of one party or the other.

The disappointing, if not surprising, decision by the conservative court leaves it up to voters to try to correct the unconstitutional rigging of political maps.

In states where voters can put initiatives on the ballot, many are putting measures up for vote that would have independent panels of experts draw the political boundaries rather than politicians.

After the 2010 census, the GOP-controlled Minnesota Legislature drew a legislative district map that DFL Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed. That led the state Supreme Court to appoint a judicial panel to draw the boundaries. Having the judicial panel draw the boundaries was preferable to a politically motivated map, but Minnesota should have a permanent system of independent panels drawing boundaries.

Minnesota does not have initiative and referendum, so residents have no option to put such a measure on the ballot.

But voters here can and should pressure their elected officials to set up an independent panel to draw future political maps.

— The Free Press of Mankato


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