After years of waiting for something to be done, we have learned that the U.S. Supreme Court did not have the wherewithal to address one of the most glaring and damaging aspects of our representative democracy: gerrymandering.
Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision that the judicial branch should not insert itself into partisan gerrymandering is disappointing not only because it reveals the hypocrisy of a court that only 20 years ago inserted itself into an election to hand the presidency to a Republican, but also because it removes our judicial system from performing its role in resolving important disputes that infringe upon our ability to fairly participate in the selection of our government representatives.
Despite his acknowledgment that partisan gerrymandering leads to unjust results, Roberts and the rest of the court’s conservative justices decided to leave the interests of partisan political parties in a position of power over the interests of the people.
While the lack of a national prohibition on partisan gerrymandering means this practice will unfortunately continue in states across the nation, we are fortunate that Utahns took matters into their own hands by voting to approve Proposition 4 last year.
Through the creation of an independent redistricting commission and the articulation of clear standards for the redistricting process, Utahns declared their opposition to the use of partisan gerrymandering by our state’s politicians. “We, the people of Utah,” used our constitutional power to ensure this unfair and unjust practice does not continue.
We have all learned, however, that the “will of the people” does not mean much to some of those who represent us up on Capitol Hill. The Legislature substituted its own medical cannabis scheme in place of the plan approved by voters mere weeks following the election. Soon thereafter, lawmakers ignored the outrage of voters when they decided to block 60,000 Utahns from receiving coverage under Proposition 3’s expansion of our Medicaid program.
Without a doubt, Proposition 4’s escape from legislative meddling during the 2019 legislative session was not a signal from lawmakers that they have no plans to undermine the will of the people once more. Some GOP lawmakers were actively pursuing changes to the new law during this year’s session. However, these backroom attempts to repeal and replace yet another successful ballot measure did not emerge into public view, most likely because legislative leaders realized that overturning everything approved by voters only months after the election might not be the best optics.
Ultimately, the job of protecting Proposition 4 belongs to each and every Utahn who opposes partisan gerrymandering. This week’s decision means we can no longer rely on the Supreme Court to end this undemocratic practice. Ideally, all our elected officials would share the belief that partisan gerrymandering is bad for our democracy and contributes to the growing division in our local, state and federal politics.
But we learned (or should have learned) long ago that we cannot always trust some members of the Utah Legislature to truly represent our interests over the course of its annual forty-five day session. Knowing that some lawmakers have argued against Proposition 4, we can only hope it is just a small minority that believe their own reelection, or the interests of partisan political parties, should be prioritized over the interests of their constituents.
Just because the Supreme Court failed to end partisan gerrymandering does not mean we have to do the same. The Utah Legislature should honor the will of the people and let Proposition 4 stand as passed by Utah voters, ensuring fairness and integrity during our periodic redrawing of district boundaries. And if lawmakers decide to undermine the will of the people, we must all rise up and put an end not only to gerrymandering, but also to the political careers of those who disregard us.
Chase Thomas is the executive director for Alliance for a Better Utah.