The U.S. Supreme Court says federal courts should stay out of disputes over partisan gerrymandering.
The decision was made in a 5-4 partisan split. Writing for the conservative majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said, "Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions."
That puts a lawsuit challenging Michigan’s political district lines in jeopardy. A federal court recently ordered Michigan’s lawmakers to redraw dozens of district lines for the 2020 election. That’s because the court found the Republican-led Legislature and governor previously drew the lines to their party’s advantage.
That case’s appeal is pending before the Supreme Court, although the justices did put the court orders on hold last month.
However, the Court's opinion is not expected to affect the redistricting system Michigan voters approved in the 2018 election. That law established an independent citizens redistricting commission that will redraw the congressional district lines instead of politicians.
The commission cannot begin until after the 2020 census, so the first election under the new system won't be until 2022.
A non-partisan study last year determined that Michigan's congressional districts are highly gerrymandered, with current district maps drawn so that Republicans are ensured disproportionate majorities on both the state and federal levels.
In a statement, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson expressed disapproval of the Court's decision, and gratitude for Michigan's upcoming redistricting system.
"The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today closes a vital door for citizens seeking recourse in a fundamental part of our representative democracy. This decision makes it even more important that last fall Michigan voters took the process of drawing district lines out of the hands of politicians and placed it squarely in the hands of our citizens."
Senator Gary Peters also said he was disappointed in the decision, saying in a statement, "Politicians shouldn’t be able to pick their own voters, and Michiganders spoke loud and clear last November that the current redistricting process is in desperate need of reform."
The group Voters Not Politicans, which brought forward the redistricting ballot proposal, released the following statement on the decision:
We are dismayed that the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to protect the millions of voters across the country whose constitutional rights are violated by extreme partisan gerrymandering. Michiganders showed that gerrymandering is an issue that impacts all voters, whether we are Republicans, Democrats, Independents or third party supporters. The lower federal courts recognized that, when our political system is broken and our elections are rigged, gerrymandering can and must be stopped by the courts. These anti-democratic practices have run rampant, and today’s decision will only further embolden politicians in the next redistricting cycle. Voters have had enough. Voters Not Politicians is working to ensure Michigan’s new fair, impartial, and transparent redistricting process led by an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is a success. We will also assist our partners in other states however we can to make their redistricting processes serve the interests of the people, not politicians and special interests.
The Supreme Court opinion was based on lawsuits out of North Carolina and Maryland, two states where one political party drew district lines to purposefully limit the power of the other.