New York Democrats’ hyperpartisan gerrymandering violated the state Constitution, which voters amended eight years ago to establish a bipartisan redistricting commission—specifically prohibiting line-drawing that discourages competition or gives one party an advantage.
But correct as last week’s state high court ruling striking down those lines is, it doesn’t solve a growing national problem. In fact, it exacerbates it because extreme gerrymandering is now happening asymmetrically across the U.S., with Republican-controlled legislatures and governors going to town to maximize their leverage by creating as many safe
congressional districts for their fellow partisans as possible, while Democrat-controlled states are increasingly tying their hands to prohibit the nefarious practice.
The result is roughly akin to what would happen if large, blue states like California and New York decided on their own to divvy up their electoral votes based on the proportion of votes a given presidential candidate won, while large red states continued to award them in winner-take-all fashion: an attempt to make America’s representative form of government work better is actually, in aggregate, making it less fair overall.
There are only two ways forward. One, Congress can and should strike a nationwide blow against gerrymandering. The For the People Act would’ve required the creation of state commissions that “unduly favor or disfavor any political party.” Par for the course in Washington, that vital provision was part of a giant bill that would’ve done a few dozen other things, some of which were seriously problematic. It went nowhere.
Two, and admittedly less likely given the composition of the Supreme Court, the country’s highest bench must revisit its calamitous 2019 decision in Rucho v. Common Cause, which barred federal courts from reviewing even the most extreme partisan gerrymanders.
As Justice Elena Kagan put it in her rousing and dead-on dissent, “Gerrymandering ... helps create the polarized political system so many Americans loathe,” adding: “The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government. Part of the Court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections.”