American democracy has suffered a significant loss. On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Rucho v. Common Cause that “partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” so federal courts can’t block states from gerrymandering for political gain.
Gerrymandering, a process abused by elected officials to redraw electoral districts in order to benefit a particular political party, has been part of American politics for centuries, with examples dating back to the 1780s. This ruling will have far-reaching effects. The 2020 U.S. Census will provide an opportunity for states to redraw their electoral districts, allowing Republicans and Democrats to secure future partisan electoral victories.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority decision, argued that federal courts have “no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution” to review redrawing of electoral districts by the states, so the court cannot stop political parties from purposely redrawing districts to their own advantage. He also wrote that “What the appellees and dissent seek is an unprecedented expansion of judicial power,” and that the “intervention would be unlimited in scope and duration.”
On behalf of the dissenting minority, Justice Elena Kagan wrote, “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.”
This decision will serve to entrench gerrymandering as a mechanism that helps the two-party system maintain control on U.S. elections. David Lewis, Republican co-chair of the North Carolina redistricting committee, provided a blatant example of how this process works in practice when he stated on the record, “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats. So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.”
The Supreme Court heard Rucho alongside a similar gerrymandering case, Lamone v. Benisek, which was also decided on June 27 in a 5-4 ruling. Although Rucho involved Democrats suing Republicans for partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina, Lamone involved Republicans suing Democrats for partisan gerrymandering in Maryland.
Where do these cases leave the Libertarian Party? We lost on two fronts. First, America’s partisan duopoly has been given a blank check by the highest court in the country to redraw districts in a way that practically ensures their electoral victory. This process is emblematic of how Republicans and Democrats conspire to prevent alternative choices, like the Libertarian Party, from having a fair shot in elections.
The second loss for Libertarians is more abstract. The Supreme Court’s decision turns the political process on its head, entrenching the power of public officials to choose their voters, rather than voters choosing their representatives. The American people, not only those in Maryland and North Carolina, have been denied a truly representative government.
The Libertarian Party platform clearly states, “We oppose laws that effectively exclude alternative candidates and parties, deny ballot access, gerrymander districts, or deny the voters their right to consider all legitimate alternatives.” This Supreme Court ruling was a travesty of justice.