When the U.S. Supreme Court refused to act 5-4 on two cases involving unfair fixes of the political system, Democrats were quick to find fault with the five Republican-appointed judges in the majority.
But it’s important to remember that the court’s majority had before it cases of Democratic gerrymandering (of districts for Congress in Maryland) as well as a widely reported case from North Carolina favoring the Republicans.
And what should courts do?
That’s a harder question, as the justices said that they recognized the “unjust” drawing of district lines by partisans as an affront to democracy. Further, Chief Justice John Roberts said for the majority that the cases before them — again, by both parties — were “extreme” political actions.
We disagree with some of the liberal critics who believe that the high court should have rushed into a decision. One of the important qualities of any court is restraint: Once an issue is to be decided, the actions recommended by the judges should not put the judicial system on a slippery slope to becoming an all-purpose political tribunal.
While the justices saw the abuse, they were uncertain about the response to it, but the good news for Democrats is already coming in from the states, where litigation against unfair redistricting has already rolled back a GOP district map that was found to be extreme under state laws.
Democrats might not be in general as fond of federalism as conservatives usually are, but it may be working against the abuse of redistricting.
The best way to deal with redistricting excesses is through the political system. Louisiana ought to align itself with the states that have adopted independent redistricting commissions.
In five states where laws can be passed by public vote — Ohio, Colorado, Missouri, Michigan and Utah — independent commissions were created last year and will draw the lines next time, after the 2020 Census.
Those are very different states politically. That suggests this is a more popular issue with the people, even if politicians don’t agree, and want to keep the process entirely in their hands.
In Louisiana, the Legislature failed to pass a much more modest proposal to set standards of public input and transparent deliberations for redrawing lines. That bill or something very like it isn’t as good as an independent commission, but it is a way to protect the political system from the fixers.
Our state has seen dramatic population shifts. For elementary notions of fairness to rule, a better way to draw district lines is necessary — or every shift will be seen as a political opportunity to rig the results in 2021 and beyond.