A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court Thursday set precedent that would block the federal judiciary from declaring Michigan’s district lines to be unconstitutional.
In a 5-4 decision along ideological lines, the Court ruled that federal judges could not decide whether North Carolina's or Maryland’s district lines are unconstitutional simply due to gerrymandering that is designed to benefit one party over the other. Michigan is currently fighting a lawsuit against its current district lines based on similar arguments.
Over the past year, several organizations have brought lawsuits against states’ districts, suggesting that gerrymandering to aid a specific party violates Article 1 of the Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the First Amendment. However, Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion dismissed that position.
“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” 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.”
A lower court had ruled Michigan’s district lines unconstitutional due to partisan gerrymandering in favor of Republicans earlier this year and ordered the state to draw new lines. The Senate Republicans appealed this decision.
Although the court has yet to rule on Michigan’s districts, the new precedent will likely overturn the lower court’s ruling.
“Today's ruling suggests that a federal court should not be in the business of redrawing Michigan's Senate maps mid-term, as we have argued all along,” Amber McCann, a spokesperson for the Michigan Senate Republicans, told The Center Square in an email. “However, our case is still pending and we await action from the Supreme Court regarding Michigan.”
In a marketing email, the Michigan-focused group Voters Not Politicians denounced the ruling.
“Today, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a disappointing opinion and failed to protect millions of voters whose constitutional rights are violated by extreme partisan gerrymandering,” the email read. “This ruling will allow politicians across the country to continue gerrymandering our election district maps for their own personal and political gain."
Last year, Voters Not Politicians backed a successful ballot proposal in Michigan to create an independent commission to draw district lines, rather than allowing the lines to be drawn by the political party in power. It passed 61 to 39 percent.