Josh Douglas: “Why Gerrymandering Needs to Land in State Courts”

Josh Douglas Politico oped:

It’s already become clear that increasingly partisan state legislatures can’t be trusted to draw fair maps, and the U.S. Supreme Court — given a chance to intervene — made things worse by washing its hands of the issue. Congress, too, doesn’t look likely to step in to set uniform rules that prevent the worse abuses in redistricting.

So where is the solution going to lie? In the short run, at least, it will be up to state courts to protect the fairness of our democracy….

Virtually all state constitutions have a clause granting state citizens the fundamental right to vote. (Only Arizona’s does not, but its courts have construed its state constitution as still essentially conferring the right to vote.) About half of the state constitutions declare that elections must be “free,” “free and equal,” or “free and open.” And a few state constitutions, such as Florida’s, even dictate rules that require fairness in redistricting.

The process will need to begin with lawsuits. Voting rights activists — including Democrats who generally are faring worse in these gerrymandered maps — will need to bring lawsuits against the maps in state courts, invoking the protections embedded within state constitutions. There is already precedent for this tactic: Both the North Carolina and Pennsylvania supreme courts relied on these clauses to strike down blatantly partisan gerrymanders in the last redistricting cycle, noting that when politicians pick their voters instead of the other way around, elections are no longer “free.”

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