On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to fair-representation activists nationwide, ruling 5-4 that federal courts cannot intervene in partisan gerrymandering cases.
The ruling, which decided a case that combined separate challenges to extreme partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina and Maryland, comes as states gear up for redistricting after the 2020 census.
In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, "we conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts."
While noting that “excessive partisanship in districting leads to results that reasonably seem unjust,” Roberts asserted that it is not within the jurisdiction of federal courts to decide when district lines constitute extreme gerrymandering.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan wrote, “For the first time ever, this Court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities."
FairVote Senior Fellow David Daley, in a Boston Globe editorial published on the 27th, slammed the ruling.
“Partisan gerrymandering imperils the very notion of democracy. Today’s turbocharged technological gerrymanders insulate representatives from the people. The court’s shameful decision has made it ever more difficult for all of us to fight back.”
However, there is a legislative solution to partisan gerrymandering: the Fair Representation Act (FRA).
In a Salon editorial published in April, Daley talked about the FRA:
“Congress could simply pass the Fair Representation Act, as proposed by Rep. Don Beyer, a Virginia Democrat. Beyer would replace our winner-takes-all system with a fairer system that would allow every vote to matter and everyone to win their fair share of seats. It calls for ranked choice voting to elect House members, combined with moderately larger districts of three, four or five representatives along the lines of ones used widely in state and local elections. These two reforms, together, would not only dramatically transform our politics, but ensure that all sides win only the seats they deserve in every single state.”
The FRA was introduced in the House last year and is expected to be reintroduced in the coming months. The FRA would create multi-member districts that would proportional representation for all Americans, ameliorating the corrosive effects of partisan gerrymandering. While passing the FRA in Congress is surely a long shot, it would go a long way toward fixing many of the problems plaguing our current system of governance.