The Supreme Court will soon hand down rulings in two cases on partisan gerrymandering, one challenging maps in Maryland drawn by a Democratic majority and the other in Republican-majority North Carolina. Regardless of the outcome, the fight against gerrymandering will be far from over.
Both parties are guilty of gerrymandering, but Republicans have made it an art form. In fact, the GOP has proved that, as long as it controls statehouses, it will be hell-bent on preserving and advancing its agenda through redistricting and other moves, no matter the cost. Republican statehouses have tried to impeach judges who challenged their gerrymandered maps, stripped power from newly elected Democratic governors, overturned voter-approved ballot initiatives, passed a slew of voter-suppression laws tightening their grip on the electorate, and of course, manipulated district lines to the point that they held on to more than a dozen gerrymandered seats in Congress even during the biggest Democratic wave since Watergate.
Republican tactics aren’t suddenly going to change should the court strike down the maps in Maryland (Benisek vs. Lemone) or North Carolina (Rucho vs. Common Cause), or establish a new legal standard for partisan gerrymandering. Anyone who thinks that Republicans will go quietly into the night needs a dose of reality. If voters allow the GOP to remain in control of state legislatures after the 2020 election, the party will gerrymander Congress and rig our democracy all over again.
Should this happen, more legal challenges will inevitably ensue as GOP-controlled states are forced to once again defend new maps in court. However, these legal battles will take years — just like it did for the latest gerrymandered maps to reach the Supreme Court. In that time, Republicans will continue to have a built-in gerrymandered advantage of seats in congressional and state elections, empowering them to obstruct progress at a profoundly consequential moment for our country.
Need more proof of Republican willingness to go around the Supreme Court to get their way? Look no further than what’s happened to women’s reproductive rights since Roe vs. Wade. After the court ruled in Roe in 1973 that women had a constitutional right to an abortion, Republican-controlled state governments immediately began challenging the ruling with an onslaught of new laws limiting a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions. Those unconstitutional and restrictive laws were not overturned until 1992, nearly two decades later. And now, we are watching firsthand as Republican-controlled state governments in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio and elsewhere take the lead on challenging the very foundations of Roe with egregious abortion bans. There are zero reasons to assume the GOP won’t use its control of state governments to challenge a new Supreme Court precedent on partisan gerrymandering with new gerrymandered maps in 2021 as well.
The Republican Party’s leaders know that the future of the congressional map doesn’t lie with the Supreme Court, and they’re not hiding it. That’s why the national Republican State Leadership Committee has spent nearly $100 million over the last decade solidifying the GOP’s grip on state elections via its “Redmap” program, a strategy to dominate the redistricting process. Even in 2018, a banner election year for Democrats in Congress, Republican fundraising dramatically outpaced Democrats in state elections. In Florida, the preeminent battleground state that historically has had some of the nation’s most extreme maps, Republicans outraised Democrats by more than 5-to-1 in the average statehouse race. Yet Democrats at the top of the ticket shattered fundraising records.
Democrats were able to make some gains at the state level in the 2018 elections. They flipped legislative chambers in traditionally Democratic states such as New York, Connecticut and Maine and won governorships in gerrymandered states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which will undoubtedly put a check on Republican power in those states in the next redistricting process.
But heading into 2020 the hard truth is that Republicans hold overwhelming control of state legislatures in several of the most gerrymandered states, particularly those in the Sunbelt such as Texas, Florida and North Carolina, where congressional delegations are a combined 76 members strong and are set to gain additional seats as a result of the 2020 census. There are dozens of congressional seats on the line in those states alone that the GOP stands on the verge of gerrymandering all over again. Because none of those states have established independent redistricting commissions, the only way to stop the party is to flip at least one legislative chamber to Democratic control.
So if the Supreme Court declares partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional, before you hit that retweet button in celebration, remember the following: The fight against partisan gerrymandering is far from over. We can, and we must, restore integrity to our democracy by checking Republican power at the ballot box in 2020, the last major election before 2021 redistricting begins and the fate of our congressional elections is sealed for years to come.