There was good news and bad news from the Supreme Court this morning in the last day of this session. First, the bad news: In a 5-4 ruling that really wasn’t much of a surprise, the Supreme Court ruled that gerrymandering cases were not “justiciable.” That basically means that the U.S. Constitution has no say in the matter — it does not fall under their jurisdiction — and that as far as the federal courts go, states can partisan gerrymander all they want. It’s none of the court’s business. This one hurt, particularly since it might have gone the other way with Justice Kennedy, but Brett Kavanaugh’s placement on the bench all but ensured this ruling.
What does it mean in a practical sense? States can still sue to undo partisan gerrymandering under their state constitutions — something that has worked in the past (in Pennsylvania, in particular). You might also try to put restricting maps on the ballot and let the voters decide, which would be nice. Otherwise, there’s something of a Catch-22. If you want to get rid of Republican partisan gerrymandering, you need to elect more Democrats, but in order to elect more Democrats, we need to get rid of the partisan gerrymandering. Damnit.
Plus side, I guess, is that in Democratically controlled state legislatures where the state constitution doesn’t otherwise forbid it, Democrats can gerrymander Republicans out of existence, too. Because, really, that’s what this country needs: More division.
On the positive side of the ledger, however, the Supreme Court blocked the Trump Administration’s efforts to put a citizenship question on the 2020 census. In another 5-4 decision, Chief Justice Roberts actually sided with the liberals on the court (Roberts is the new Kennedy). The liberal justices, however, ruled that the citizenship question violated federal law, while Roberts would only go so far as to say that the Trump Administration didn’t provide a good enough reason to add the citizenship question:
“The sole stated reason — seems to have been contrived. We are presented, in other words, with an explanation for agency action that is incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency’s priorities and decisionmaking process.”
This means that, more likely than not, the citizenship question will not appear on the ballot, which reportedly needs to be printed by the end of this month. However, don’t put it past the Trump Administration to delay the printing of the census while trying to contrive a better reason to add the citizenship question.
However, as it stands, it will not appear on the census. That’s a big deal. The Administration had tried to add it in the hopes that noncitizens and Hispanic households would not turn in their census forms for fear of deportation, which would have led to massive undercounting, resulting in fewer congressional seats and federal distribution of money in areas with higher concentrations of noncitizens and Hispanic households.