Michiganders likely will stomach at least one more election where they are selected by their politicians long before arriving at the ballot box.
The words “status quo” fell with an unflattering thud Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a split decision that halts federal courts from commanding fixes for the nation’s most gerrymandered political districts.
The ruling threw out lower court decisions that would have ordered officials in Maryland and North Carolina to redraw legislative and congressional district maps that have devolved into grotesque reflections of our nation’s worst back-room political wrangling. Unfortunately, the 5-4 split decision doesn’t only impact Maryland and North Carolina.
Legal experts say the decision also scuttled a federal district court panel’s ruling that Michigan lawmakers must redraw boundaries around more than two dozen of our state’s legislative and congressional districts before the 2020 election. The lower court judges declared all of those districts unconstitutionally gerrymandered.
The latest decision doesn’t impact the ballot measure Michigan voters passed by a wide margin in 2018 that demands the formation of an independent commission to draw district lines. That effort won’t produce untainted district lines until after 2020.
But it all but guarantees Michigan voters will spend another election wondering whether outcomes are nothing more than a foregone conclusion set in motion years earlier.
The ruling is about as satisfying as a sharp stick in the eye to anyone who has followed news of the battle to unravel the ball of partisan yarn that has for decades tied a bow on election or re-election for one political party or other.
The prevailing justices didn’t claim the system isn’t grossly partisan in many states, including Michigan. Rather, they seemed to hold the view that the founding fathers would somehow be OK with a systemic partisan perversion.
The system as it stands in Michigan and many other states commands that officials use new Census data each 10 years to redraw the lines that determine the boundaries of each politician’s district. The underlying goal is to ensure each representative works for an equal number of constituents. But many states’ rules governing the redraw place substantial power over the process in the hands of the political party that holds majority power in the state legislature.
That partisan control over the redistricting process allows lawmakers to pore over voter data and manipulate the boundaries of each district to include or exclude groups of voters. Essentially, it allows politicians to pick their voters.
For Michiganders, that system has created districts that challenge the rules of geometry and defy logic. Many districts clearly were drawn to include one neighborhood or another, one house or another, because those who had power to write the rules perceived political advantage in doing so. Those boundaries were drawn to overwhelmingly favor Republicans during the past 20 years — they controlled both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office during redistricting that followed both the 2000 and the 2010 Census.
Democrats have done the same thing historically, and have done so in other states, like Maryland, where groups have mounted legal challenges to the status quo.
It’s hard to believe the drafters of the U.S. Constitution would agree with such tyranny of partisanship. Worse, it seems at least five Supreme Court justices have set aside their branch of government’s duty to check another branch run amok.
Our democracy always has been a work in progress, an experiment that requires constant adjustment and revision.
We just wish those in power would work a little harder to ensure our latest revisions are in place before the next election.