By Hamil R. Harris
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – On the eve of America’s celebration of its 243rd Independence Day, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down rulings that sent mixed messages to Civil Rights groups at a time when President Trump and Republicans hope to tilt the 2020 presidential elections their way.
In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the issue of partisan gerrymandering (drawing district lines in order to achieve political outcomes) does not belong in federal court and should be decided by state legislatures. Conservatives applauded that decision because it comes on the eve of the 2020 Census when state lawmakers configure districts often to benefit whatever party controls their particular state.
While the court rejected challenges to Republican-drawn congressional districts in North Carolina and a Democratic district in Maryland, the decision was still a major blow to critics who have argued for years that partisan manipulation of electoral maps unfairly results in single-party political control. The 5-4 decision fell along traditional conservative-liberal lines. Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Chief Justice John Roberts voted to keep the redistricting cases out of the federal courts. And liberal justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer voted to maintain federal jurisdiction over the cases.
Speaking for the conservative majority, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that while redistricting plans “are highly partisan by any measure,” the Supreme Court and lower courts are not the venues to settle these disputes. With this decision, Civil Rights groups say the court is giving state houses, mostly controlled by Republicans, more power to tilt things in their ideological direction.
But writing for the four dissenting judges, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, who was appointed by President Obama, said, “For the first time ever, this court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities.”
In the case of Rucho V. Common Cause and Lamone v. Benisek, NAACP President Derrick Johnson, said in a statement, “The Court’s rulings are allowing party politics to determine the outcomes of our elections…Extreme partisan gerrymandering has infected our electoral process for far too long. Exercise of the franchise, which many fought and even died for, must not be reduced to a political charade in which the outcomes are predetermined. In America, voters should choose their representatives instead of representatives choosing their voters.”
Johnson concluded that the high court should have halted what the NAACP and other civil rights advocates consider unconstitutional conduct, but it did not. Therefore, he contends, this is a throwback racism of the past.
“In racially polarized environments like North Carolina where racial block voting is standard, today’s decision will license policymakers to mask racial intent as partisan gerrymandering in order to suppress votes and prevent communities from fully participating in democracy to elect candidates of their choice,” Johnson stated.
The court’s decision basically reverses the outcome of rulings in Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio, where lower courts had ordered new maps drawn and it ends proceedings in Wisconsin, where a retrial was supposed to take place later this summer.
Supreme Court decision in Census case more acceptable
On the other hand, the NAACP and members of the Congressional Black Caucus applauded the court ruling in the case of the Department of Commerce v. New York that blocks the Trump Administration’s attempt to insert a citizenship question into the 2020 Census based on the pretext of enforcing the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
“I am very pleased that the Supreme Court ruled today that the Trump Administration may not add the citizenship question to the 2020 Census based on the Administration’s claim that it was trying to protect voting rights,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), referring to the 5-4 decision where Robert’s decided with the most liberal leaning justices on the bench.
Cummings, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Operations Committee, challenged President Trump’s move from the very beginning after his Secretary of Commerce added the citizenship question to the upcoming 2020 Census form.
“Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testified before Congress that the Trump Administration was adding the citizenship question to the census ‘solely’ at the request of the Justice Department to help enforce the Voting Rights Act,” Cummings said in a statement. “The Supreme Court has now eviscerated this claim, calling it a ‘pretext,’ ‘contrived,’ and ‘incongruent with what the record reveals.’
Some have suggested that Secretary Ross could go back and offer other reasons for adding the citizenship question. However, any claim now that the Trump Administration had other reasons for adding the citizenship question would directly contradict Secretary Ross’ sworn testimony that helping the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act was the Administration’s sole purpose.
Johnson said that the NAACP also welcomed the court ruling, which he said stopped the Trump administration’s fraudulent efforts to suppress votes in the upcoming Presidential election.
“Through various means, the Trump administration is deliberately seeking to undercount communities of color in the 2020 Census, a ploy designed to increase the political power of Whites at the expense of already underrepresented communities,” Johnson said. “Weakening the political representation of communities of color has been a stain on our democracy since its founding. The Three-Fifths Compromise of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 counted enslaved black people as three-fifths of a person in apportioning congressional districts. Since that time, the Census has severely undercounted the communities of color.”
This week President Trump has planned a huge 4th of July celebration, complete with a military parade and even a jet fly over in Washington DC. But Johnson wrote that President Trump would do better by stopping his effort to take Democracy away from so many vulnerable people whether it is through a census or mass deportations scheduled sometimes after the holiday.
“The citizenship question was not made for the reasons put forth by Secretary Ross,” Johnson said. “Rather, it was a bald-faced effort to benefit one race and one political party at the expense of some of our nation’s most vulnerable communities. This astounding truth can no longer be swept under the rug. It is there for all to see.”