Supreme Court Avoids Answer on Partisan Gerrymandering in Wisconsin, Maryland Cases

According to Reuters, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to use high-profile cases from Wisconsin and Maryland to give a definitive ruling on the practice of partisan gerrymandering, instead electing to decide the cases on legal grounds.

In the Wisconsin case, the nine justices ruled against a group of Democratic voters who claimed that the state’s 2011 redistricting plan was unconstitutional and put their party at a disadvantage in elections.

Chief Justice John Roberts said the voters lacked the legal standing to bring the case forward because the alleged disadvantage placed on Democratic voters only affected individual legislative districts and not the state as a whole.

“Remedying the individual voter’s harm, therefore, does not necessarily require restructuring of all the state’s legislative districts,” he said.

The court on Monday handed down a similar decision in Benisek v. Lamone, a case out of Maryland in which Republican voters argued that Democratic officials had redrawn its Sixth Congressional District in an effort to beat the Republican incumbent, former Rep. Roscoe Bartlett.

In their five-page ruling, the justices said the voters had waited too long to seek relief and allowed the Democratic-drawn district stand as litigation continues.

Election reform advocates from both sides of the aisle had expected the court to hand down a judgment limiting the use of partisan gerrymandering following a string of high-profile lawsuits related to the practice in states like Texas, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.

Dale Ho, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said he was disappointed by the rulings.

“The Supreme Court missed an opportunity today to lay down a firm marker as to when partisan gerrymandering is so extreme that it violates the constitutional rights of voters,” he said. “But the court permitted lawsuits against unfair maps to continue.”

President of the League of Women Voters of the United States Chris Carson echoed Ho’s comments in a statement he gave to The Washington Post, saying the court decisions were just “another delay” in ensuring voters retain their power in U.S. democracy.

“Partisan gerrymandering is distorting and undermining our representative democracy, giving politicians the power to choose their voters, instead of giving voters the power to choose their politicians,” he said. “We are disappointed that the Court failed to set a standard when it comes to partisan gerrymandering.”

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