What Do Today's SCOTUS Decisions Mean for Our Democracy?

Posted by Ryan J. Suto on June 27, 2019 in Blog

This morning the Supreme Court delivered opinions in major cases that AAI has been anticipating for months. The results of these cases are not cut-and-dry, so here is an overview of what they mean and where we go from here.  

In the citizenship question case, Chief Justice Roberts did find that the Voting Rights Act justification for adding the question was a pretext, a false reason used to cover-up the government’s actual intent. But he also wrote that the Commerce Department’s decision to add the citizenship question was supported by evidence, and was not arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act. In what appears to be a ‘help me help you’ moment, the Chief Justice seems to have purposely left the door open for the Trump administration to allow the Court to find a rationale allowing the addition of the question. When Commerce likely attempts the add the question again, that decision will be challenged, and we will undoubtedly do much of this over again. This decision does not impact the ongoing Maryland case regarding the citizenship question, which focuses on unrelated discrimination and civil-rights claims, so a lot of litigation remains to be done on this issue.  

In the political gerrymandering decision, Chief Justice Roberts issued a sweeping decision, taking the federal judiciary completely out of the business of reviewing maps on any grounds of political chicanery. While districts still need to be of roughly equal populations, the Supreme Court chose to leave it up to politicians to police themselves, which has generally not had a great track record. While there is still the opportunity for state constitutions to serve as the basis for challenges of state maps, such as what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court did recently, there is a practical problem: states that are under single party control--governor and both houses--after the 2020 election could effectively freeze their existing partisan balance by drawing partisan gerrymanders to preclude any realistic possibility of future losses. Currently, 36 of 50 states are under single-party control, so it is not an insignificant concern.  

Because of these cases, the 2020 election will be hugely important, along with participation in the census, regardless of whether the citizenship question is added. The 2020 census will form the basis of how politicians elected over the next 2 years will draw new districts--which they can now draw to favor their own party--for use from 2022 through 2030. No one can stay home on Election Day.

Click here to read our statement in the citizenship question case.

Click here to read our statement on the gerrymandering case.