The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to uphold partisan gerrymandering was terribly disappointing.
By a 5-4 vote that split along ideological lines, the conservatives on the court said it was none of the judiciary’s business how states draw their election boundaries as long as they aren’t diluting the strength of minority voters, which previous high court decisions have said is a constitutional violation of the “one person, one vote” principle.
In states such as Mississippi, where party lines closely follow racial lines, it may be hard to tell where partisan gerrymandering ends and racial gerrymandering begins.
Since Republicans dominate the Legislature, which draws the lines for legislative and congressional elections, and black voters are almost monolithically Democratic, any effort to rig an election in favor of Republican candidates is very likely to dilute black voting strength.
But even if racial concerns can be separated from partisan ones, allowing political parties to draw election lines that increase their power is patently unfair. And while GOP gerrymandering has been most common in recent years, this practice is one that Democrats have used, and most likely will now employ even more, in places where they have majority control.
No matter which party is drawing self-serving boundaries, the consequences are detrimental.
When one party can dominate elections in seeming perpetuity, it eliminates what would normally be a healthy give-and-take in the formulation of public policy and diminishes the motivation to compromise.
Partisan gerrymandering drives candidates to the extremes, since they don’t have to worry about appealing to voters whose sympathies lean toward the other side of the political aisle. It contributes to the widening divisions within America today.
Chief Justice John Roberts, in writing for the majority, said that the court’s decision was not intended to condone “excessive partisan gerrymandering,” even while it empowers it.
He said that if states want to take the power of drawing boundaries out of the hands of legislators, they are free to do so.
That’s what more than a dozen states have done in going toward nonpartisan or bipartisan commissions to handle the responsibility of redrawing election boundaries after every census.
The problem is, though, about the only way that is going to happen in Mississippi is through the initiative process, which is rarely successful.
It’s highly improbable that incumbent GOP lawmakers will voluntarily give up this power to try to ensure their own election and the dominance of their party in state politics.
The Supreme Court had an opportunity to prod them to do so. It squandered that chance.