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The Supreme Court Punts Redistricting Back to Congress: Time to Step Up!

by Jessica Smith // Published June 28, 2006
Seventh in a series of guest blog posts by FairVote interns.

In a long-awaited opinion that kept many Beltway insiders holding their breath, the Supreme Court today decided League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry, further emphasizing the severe need to pursue serious redistricting reform. To the disappointment of many reformers, the decision upheld the majority of Tom DeLay"s mid-decade redistricting brainchild; only one district (District 23) was found to be invalid under § 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Justice Kennedy"s decision indicates that it is increasingly unlikely that the Court will ever strike down partisan political gerrymandering on constitutional grounds. Despite having previously found that such claims are justiciable, the Court refuses to pinpoint any manageable standard that could be used to determine the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering schemes. This essentially means that partisans will continue to have free license at creating a designer democracy against the public interest. Any hope that this case would provide a standard by which to judge partisan gerrymanders has been shot down as Justice Kennedy rejected each suggested standard. Thus, it will be harder for any future plaintiffs to be successful in challenging redistricting plans fueled by party politics.

FairVote maintains that we need to call upon Congress to responsibly govern mid-decennial redistricting and supports Rep. John Tanner and Rep. Zoe Lofgren"s respective initiatives in doing such. But more importantly, Congress needs to get into the meat and bones of redistricting and start setting criteria for how to fairly draw lines. Both of the aforementioned acts would implement national redistricting standards, establish independent redistricting committees, and limit redistricting to once per decennial census cycle. Congress, not individual states, should have this redistricting reform responsibility because state-by-state reform can and will lead to complicated partisan reforms that do little to improve democracy.

Jessica Smith is a legal intern at FairVote and a rising 2L at American University's Washington College of Law. Jessica hails from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania - home of the National Watch & Clock Museum (her favorite exhibit is the Pendulette Clock Display). When Jessica is not watching time tick by, she enjoys visiting the Harrisburg Challenge Family Fun Center to hit the batting cages.