Voices & Choices

Why a SCOTUS punt doesn’t mean the end for redistricting reform

Why a SCOTUS punt doesn’t mean the end for redistricting reform

After decades of dodging the issue, will the Supreme Court at last step in and take down partisan gerrymandering?

Predictions abounded as the nation’s highest court revisited the now familiar topic in a new pair of cases alleging partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina and Maryland. Many hoped the review would prove the perfect case for a long-awaited SCOTUS condemnation of politically motivation mapmaking. Others were less optimistic, citing the new faces on the court as well as legal precedent for reasons why court intervention now would be even less likely than it had under past considerations.

As FairVote Senior Fellow David Daley summed up both sides of the coin in a recent op-ed for Salon.

“If the justices ever wanted to take on this anti-democratic scourge, now is the time. The two cases before the court, from Maryland and North Carolina, offer textbook illustrations of the long-lasting damage wrought by determined hyper-partisans of both sides, armed with ever-more-precise voter data and sophisticated geo-mapping software.”

Yet, as Daley concluded, the now-majority conservative block on the court led by Chief Justice John Roberts have continued to show reluctance and even skepticism toward stopping such a scourge.

Reports from opening arguments indicated most justices were indeed split by political ideology, with more  conservative members expressing concern over wading into the “political thicket.” And as Justice Brett Kavanaugh suggested, perhaps it was better left to the states given the slew of successful citizen-led ballot referendums that came out of the midterms.

While such initiatives offer a great example of the innovation that comes from our so-called “laboratories of democracy,” state intervention alone cannot conquer the almighty gerrymander. As the Fayettesville-Observer editorial board highlighted, redistricting is not as easily amended in certain states, including North Carolina which requires court order or state legislation.

And while a significant improvement from lawmaker-led mapmaking, independent redistricting commissions can also fall prey to the political persuasions that created this mess of contorted maps in the first place.

But another remedy exists, combining the popular independent redistricting model with ranked choice voting and larger, multi-member congressional districts. As introduced by U.S. Rep. Don Beyer in 2017 - with plans to reintroduce this session - the Fair Representation Act (FRA) renders gerrymandering virtually impossible while inserting true competition into U.S. House elections and ensuring truly reflective representation for all.

Easily enacted with no constitutional amendment required, the FRA offers the best hope for resurrecting fair maps nationwide, and with it the principles of our democracy.

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