Colorado received a shoutout in a major U.S. Supreme Court opinion Thursday — some light praise for its work to do away with gerrymandering.
In a 5-4 opinion that found gerrymandering — the drawing of electoral maps for partisan gain — is not a matter to be outlawed by federal courts, Chief Justice John Roberts argued states are adept at tackling the issue themselves and therefore don’t need federal court intervention.
“For example, in November 2018, voters in Colorado and Michigan approved constitutional amendments creating multimember commissions that will be responsible in whole or in part for creating and approving district maps for congressional and state legislative districts,” he wrote.
Coloradans voted overwhelmingly in favor of Amendments Y and Z last year, taking the duty to draw congressional and legislative districts away from lawmakers and giving it to commissions of a dozen people. Four will be Republicans, four Democrats, and four independents.
“Partisan political gerrymandering erodes confidence in our elections and is destructive to our democracy,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said in a release Thursday. “Colorado has made progress on this issue and should serve as a model for other states in protecting the integrity of our representative form of government.”
Roberts stressed that the Supreme Court “does not condone excessive partisan gerrymandering” or “condemn complaints about districting to echo into a void.” Instead, it allows lawmakers to address the issue. That didn’t sit well with dissenting liberals on the court.
“Of all times to abandon the (Supreme) Court’s duty to declare the law, this was not the one,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan in a fiery dissent. “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.”
Colorado was not a party in either of the two gerrymandering cases decided Thursday, but Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser joined attorneys general from 20 other states in writing a friend of the court brief in March that argued the Supreme Court should end gerrymandering.
“Deliberately drawing districts for the purpose of keeping one party in power for the long term, and without any neutral justification for the result, has no place in our political system,” Weiser and the others wrote. “It discourages voter participation, increases distrust of government, and reduces the responsiveness of elected representatives.”
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Denver Democrat and presidential candidate, compared Thursday’s opinion to the 2010 landmark ruling Citizens United v. FEC, which prohibited campaign finance restrictions on corporations and other groups. Bennet said such rulings show “the Supreme Court does not appreciate the relentless assault on our democracy.”
“The rise of extreme partisan gerrymandering has insulated politicians from real accountability and poisoned the public’s faith in our government. Voters should choose their elected representatives, not the other way around,” said Bennet, who has introduced legislation prohibiting partisan gerrymandering in congressional districts.