In a major victory in the fight against Republican gerrymandering, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a Republican appeal of a Pennsylvania state Supreme Court ruling from earlier this year that used the Keystone State’s own constitution to hold that gerrymandering violates voters’ rights to “free and equal” elections. With the U.S. Supreme Court lurching far to the right and almost certainly dooming efforts to set a federal standard against gerrymandering, the court’s decision to let a state ruling stand provides a groundbreaking way forward.
Relying on the state constitution’s guarantee of the right to vote, Pennsylvania’s Democratic-majority court replaced the GOP’s congressional gerrymander with a fairer map that intentionally set out to help make sure the party with the votes would win the most seats—a principle that’s the bedrock of democracy in a two-party system. And this approach could have an impact far outside Pennsylvania alone. That’s because nearly every other state constitution similarly establishes a right to vote, and many of them also have clauses like Pennsylvania’s that protect free and equal elections.
By turning down the GOP’s appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court has shown the way forward to stop gerrymandering at the state level: elect progressive state supreme courts in states that hold judicial elections, and elect Democratic governors who can appoint progressive justices in the states that don’t elect them directly. Fortunately, 2018’s elections provide Democrats with just that opportunity in many states with important governor’s races. Furthermore, voters in two key swing states can vote for progressive justices next week who will curtail gerrymandering: Anita Earls in North Carolina and Sam Bagenstos and Megan Cavanagh in Michigan.
The U.S Supreme Court’s decision not to hear this appeal means it didn’t set a binding precedent against overturning state court decisions that were decided solely on state constitutional grounds, so it’s possible this issue could return to the high court in the coming years. Nevertheless, Monday’s development is an encouraging sign that the federal judiciary won’t overturn a bedrock principle of federalism. While the U.S. Supreme Court is becoming increasingly hostile to voting rights and fair redistricting, they’ve consequently opened the door to a quintessential American solution to gerrymandering: progressive federalism.
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