WASHINGTON — In a blockbuster opinion issued Thursday — the last day of the court’s term — the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it’s not the High Court’s place to settle disputes over partisan gerrymandering – the practice of drawing Congressional districts in a way that benefits one political party over another.
The court split 5-4 along ideological lines in combined high-profile cases surrounding whether state legislators in Maryland and North Carolina went too far when they used politics to redraw congressional districts in their states.
“Partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” the conservative majority found in an penned by Chief Justice John Roberts.
He was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
The court’s conservative wing wrote that judicial interference in the process would be an “unprecedented expansion of judicial power” and would lead to court intervention “unlimited in scope and duration — it would recur over and over again around the country with each new round of districting.”
The North Carolina plaintiffs in the case complained that the state’s redistricting plan discriminated against Democrats, while the Maryland plaintiffs argued that their state’s map discriminated against Republicans.
The court’s liberal wing issued a scathing dissent penned by Justice Elena Kagan.
“For the first time ever, this Court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities,” she wrote.
“And not just any constitutional violation. The partisan gerrymanders in these cases deprived citizens of the most fundamental of their constitutional rights: the rights to participate equally in the political process, to join with others to advance political beliefs, and to choose their political representatives.”
Kagan was joined in the dissent by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.