June 18 (UPI) — The U.S. Supreme Court decided not to rule Monday on two high-profile cases that sought to determine whether states can legally draw up electoral maps to benefit one political party.
The high court passed on the chances to decide the gerrymandering issue, and justices gave little clarity in the separate cases from Maryland and Wisconsin that asked virtually the same question.
In the Wisconsin case, Gill v. Whitford, the court unanimously ruled that Democratic voters challenging a new legislative map drawn in 2011 failed to prove they were harmed by the new boundaries.
“The plaintiffs before us alleged that they had such a personal stake in this case, but never followed up with the requisite proof. The District Court and this Court, therefore, lack the power to resolve their claims,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court.
Roberts argued the voters didn’t prove they live in a “cracked or packed” district, and noted their argument wasn’t enough to sustain individual voters’ claims.
“It is a case about group political interests, not individual legal rights,” Roberts wrote. “But this Court is not responsible for vindicating generalized partisan preferences. The Court’s constitutionally prescribed role is to vindicate the individual rights of the people appearing before it.”
Roberts said the high court agreed to give the challengers another chance to take the case to lower courts. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch opposed giving them another try.
“The plaintiffs may have an opportunity to prove concrete and particularized injuries using evidence-unlike the bulk of the evidence presented thus far,” Roberts wrote.
Justice Elena Kagan, in a concurring opinion, argued the opportunity to challenge partisan gerrymandering is still available.
“Partisan gerrymandering injures enough individuals and organizations in enough concrete ways to ensure that standing requirements, properly applied, will not often or long prevent courts from reaching the merits of cases like this one,” Kagan wrote. “Or from insisting, when they do, that partisan officials stop degrading the nation’s democracy.”
In the Maryland case, Besinek v. Lamone, the court unanimously upheld a lower court decision to decline an injunction to block the state’s 2011 congressional map — citing legal uncertainty as sufficient justification for the judge’s refusal.
“The District Court’s decision denying a preliminary injunction cannot be regarded as an abuse of discretion,” the court concluded.
Monday’s rulings will not have major implications for claims of gerrymandering in other states — North Carolina, Texas, Ohio, Michigan and Virginia — where legislatures controlled by one party have drawn new district lines.
District lines can still be changed in time for the 2020 elections if the Supreme Court takes up the issue next term.