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'Fiasco for Democracy' as Right-Wing Supreme Court Gives Green Light to Partisan Gerrymandering

Critics call ruling a "nightmare scenario for voting rights" with negative impacts that are "hard to overstate"

Protesters attend a rally for "Fair Maps" on March 26, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

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In a decision voting rights advocates warned could open the floodgates for even more extreme and undemocratic redistricting than what is already in place throughout the nation, the right-wing Supreme Court effectively condoned partisan gerrymandering Thursday by ruling that the practice is beyond its constitutional reach.

"The Supreme Court's decision is a crushing defeat for voting rights. It is hard to overstate the impact of this ruling."
—Mark Joseph Stern, Slate

The ruling was 5-4 along party lines, with conservative Chief Justice John Roberts writing the majority opinion (pdf).

"Today, five Supreme Court Justices turned their backs on hundreds of thousands of people in Maryland and North Carolina stripped of their voice in Washington by power-hungry politicians," Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, said in a statement. "The Supreme Court had the opportunity to end partisan gerrymandering once and for all but instead a narrow majority chose to wash their hands of the undemocratic practice."

Slate legal journalist Mark Joseph Stern tweeted Thursday that the high court's ruling is "the nightmare scenario for voting rights advocates."

"The Supreme Court's decision is a crushing defeat for voting rights," Stern said. "It is hard to overstate the impact of this ruling. Federal courts are now powerless to stop politicians from drawing gerrymanders that indefinitely entrench their party's power. A fiasco for democracy."

Freda Levenson, legal director at ACLU of Ohio, said the Supreme Court's ruling will "allow the practice of gerrymandering to continue, to flourish, and to evade review by the judicial system" and leaves redistricting "in the hands of those who will continue to abuse their awesome power whenever they can to defeat the will of the voters."

"In Ohio, this means that in the 2020 election, the map, rather than the electorate, will once again determine who occupies each of our congressional seats," said Levenson.

In a scathing dissent (pdf), liberal Justice Elena Kagan accused the high court's five conservative judges of abdicating their constitutional duties "just when courts across the country, including those below, have coalesced around manageable judicial standards to resolve partisan gerrymandering claims."

"The majority's idea... seems to be that if we have lived with partisan gerrymanders so long, we will survive. That complacency has no cause," Kagan wrote. "Of all times to abandon the Court's duty to declare the law, this was not the one. The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government. Part of the court's role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections. With respect but deep sadness, I dissent."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, said the Supreme Court's ruling on Thursday gives "Republican politicians across the country the approval to rig our democracy and suppress voters with racist, gerrymandered maps."

"This is is not what democracy is about," Sanders tweeted. "We can take back power by registering and mobilizing new voters."

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