WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court Thursday upheld the partisan gerrymandering that has allowed Republicans to control power in several closely divided states. A majority ruled that elected lawmakers, not judges, have right to draw the election maps for their states.
The decision is a defeat for reformers who said politicians were unfairly denying voters the right to fair and equal representation.
The decision, written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., came on a 5-4 vote, with other conservatives joining him. Roberts said the claims "present political questions beyond reach of the courts."
The high court had two cases before it in which states were appealing gerrymandering rulings. Justices overturned both lower court rulings and said the cases should be dismissed.
In North Carolina, Republican leaders admitted they drew an election map for "partisan advantage" and sought to lock in victory for 10 of 13 congressional districts.
In Maryland, Democratic leaders shifted hundreds of thousands of voters with the aim of ousting a veteran Republican from Congress and creating a reliably Democratic district.
Partisan gerrymandering has been widely denounced for effectively allowing politicians to pick their voters. If one party controls the state government, its leaders can draw an election map that all but guarantees their candidates will win a lopsided majority of the seats for the next decade.
But the high court has struggled to decide when politics goes too far and crosses a constitutional line. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. had long been skeptical of the court's power to intervene in these political disputes. Last year, he engineered a procedural ruling that scuttled a gerrymandering case from Wisconsin.
That has not prevented lower court judges from striking down skewed election maps in at least six states, including in North Carolina and Maryland. In January, the justices agreed to hear appeals from both states.
Last month, the court also put on hold gerrymandering rulings from Ohio and Michigan. In all four cases, judges said the politicians had deprived voters of a fair and equal voice by drawing districts that entrenched one party in power.