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Justice Kagan’s Gerrymandering Dissent

The liberal justice blasted the Supreme Court’s conservatives for abdicating their duty and putting American democracy in danger

Associate Justice Elena Kagan poses in the official group photo at the US Supreme Court in Washington, D.C,MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court’s five conservatives ruled Thursday that federal courts have no role to play in striking down politically rigged congressional maps that deny equal representations to citizens of a given state. The court’s majority opinion, responding to two lawsuits challenging gerrymandered maps in Maryland and North Carolina, effectively punted, saying there is no standard to decide such cases. The decision is a serious blow to voting rights groups who had hoped the high court would step in and set a precedent on the issue of gerrymandering.

In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan, one of the court’s four liberals, blasted the five conservative justices. She accused them of abdicating their duties with a “tragically wrong” decision that would have disastrous consequences for American democracy. Here are six of the most blistering lines from Kagan’s dissent:

  • “The majority’s abdication comes just when courts across the country, including those below, have coalesced around manageable judicial standards to resolve partisan gerrymandering claims.”
  • “Maybe the majority errs in these cases because it pays so little attention to the constitutional harms at their core. After dutifully reciting each case’s facts, the majority leaves them forever behind, instead immersing itself in everything that could conceivably go amiss if courts became involved.”
  • “The majority’s idea instead seems to be that if we have lived with partisan gerrymanders so long, we will survive. That complacency has no cause. Yes, partisan gerrymandering goes back to the Republic’s earliest days. (As does vociferous opposition to it.) But big data and modern technology—of just the kind that the mapmakers in North Carolina and Maryland used—make today’s gerrymandering altogether different from the crude line-drawing of the past.”
  • “For the first time in this Nation’s history, the majority declares that it can do nothing about an acknowledged constitutional violation because it has searched high and low and cannot find a workable legal standard to apply.”
  • “[I]n throwing up its hands, the majority misses something under its nose: What it says can’t be done has been done. Over the past several years, federal courts across the country—including, but not exclusively, in the decisions below—have largely converged on a standard for adjudicating partisan gerrymandering claims (striking down both Democratic and Republican districting plans in the process).”
  • “Of all times to abandon the Court’s duty to declare the law, this was not the one. The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government. Part of the Court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections. With respect but deep sadness, I dissent.”

You can read the majority’s opinion and Kagan’s dissent here.

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