Remember when US Senator Mitch McConnell blocked the confirmation of Merrick Garland to the US Supreme Court because he could? And when I and lots of others warned that the election of 2016 would have far-reaching consequences? Good morning, it's the last day of the Supreme Court's term, and they are publishing their far-reaching consequences to the world.
In a decision that surprised no one but saddened a lot of people who believe the Court has drifted into naked partisanship, the five Republican-appointed justices voted against the minority parties of North Carolina and Maryland, deciding that gerrymandering was "a political question:"
The drafters of the Constitution, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority, understood that politics would play a role in drawing election districts when they gave the task to state legislatures. Judges, the chief justice said, are not entitled to second-guess lawmakers’ judgments.
“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” the chief justice wrote.
When I was in law school, my constitutional law professor joked that "political question" means "we can't come up with anything logical that will pass a smell test." As Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissent, "For the first time ever, this Court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities. And not just any constitutional violation. The partisan gerrymanders in these cases deprived citizens of the most fundamental of their constitutional rights: the rights to participate equally in the political process, to join with others to advance political beliefs, and to choose their political representatives. In so doing, the partisan gerrymanders here debased and dishonored our democracy, turning upside-down the core American idea that all governmental power derives from the people."
Let's not gloss over this: the Republican-appointed justices voted for their own party.
Maryland, like Illinois, California, New York, and Massachusetts, already have Democratic majorities. Sure, this decision means Republicans won't ever again have anything approaching real representation in those states. But Democratic voters already outnumber Republicans in North Carolina, Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania. So this decision very much favors the Republican party, and will enable Republicans to hold on to power even as their numbers dwindle over time. Both of which, I don't need to point out, are happening.
So this decision makes explicit what everyone already knew: the Republican-appointed justices are Republicans first, justices second. This was a party-line vote, not a conservative vs. liberal vote, and it diminishes the Court.
The Court also decided today that the White House explanation for its proposed citizenship question was so much bullshit and sent the case back to the lower courts, meaning the Commerce Dept. probably won't put it on the forms they send out next spring. Chief Justice John Roberts' opinion for a unanimous court, however, held that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross lied about the rationale for putting the question on the 2020 form, but there was nothing wrong with the question itself. This decision resulted in five separate concurrences and dissents, with the Republican justices generally supporting the question and the other justices not.
In other words, the Republican justices couldn't come up with a rationale that supported their party that could pass the laugh test in this case either, but also couldn't call it a "political question," because Ross was just too incompetent at lying to help them. This isn't a victory for anyone; this is an own goal by the GOP.
That's right. We live in a country that still has the rule of law because the ruling party are too incompetent to do authoritarianism correctly. (It helps that authoritarians tend to incompetence by definition.) And the rope-a-dope strategy the Democratic Party are currently using just isn't working.