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Supreme Court: State Lawmakers Can Draw Political Boundaries To Benefit Their Party

Supreme Court: State Lawmakers Can Draw Political Boundaries To Benefit Their Party

The Supreme Court narrowly ruled Thursday that the Constitution doesn’t prohibit state lawmakers from designing political boundaries to benefit their own party.

The 5-4 decision in two cases on the matter effectively gives state legislatures the OK to adopt district maps that maximize their party’s hold on power.

State legislative and congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years to account for population changes, with the party in control of the state legislature typically drawing the new districts.

A Political Process

The majority of the High Court found that redistricting is fundamentally a political act that shouldn’t be taken over by judges.

“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority.

The framers of the Constitution understood politics would affect the drawing of political boundaries, and the courts aren’t suited for political decisions, he wrote.

“Asking judges to predict how a particular district map will perform in future elections risks basing constitutional holdings on unstable ground outside judicial expertise." 

One of the two cases, from North Carolina, essentially required political calculation in redistricting, including a “partisan advantage” in the law spelling out criteria for drawing districts.

Critics have often complained that once one party or the other gains control of a legislature and the ability to draw districts, the party can sometimes lock in its control of the body for decades even if the political persuasions of the populace change.

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