WASHINGTON — In a major setback for political reformers, the Supreme Court refused Monday to rule on the constitutionality of extreme partisan gerrymandering, dismissing cases from Wisconsin and Maryland for procedural reasons.
In the Wisconsin case, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the challengers must bring complaints against their own individual district, not against the statewide map.
This ruling appears to make it far harder for reformers to knock down entire election maps that give one party a solid hold on a state legislature or a congressional delegation.
Several Democratic voters in Wisconsin had sued, contending the Republicans who controlled that state’s Legislature had drawn a map that ensured the GOP would retain at least 60 percent of the seats in the state House, even if most voters cast ballots for Democrats.
A federal court in Wisconsin ruled for the challengers, and the case of Gill vs. Whitford looked as though it would yield the first ruling striking down partisan gerrymandered districts that went too far.
But the chief justice, who was skeptical of such claims, argued that the court should resolve complaints district by district, rather than statewide.
The court’s liberal justices, led by Justice Elena Kagan, said they concurred in the outcome.
The justices also refused to rule in a Maryland case in which Democrats redrew a congressional district to knock out a long-serving Republican in the House. In Benisek vs. Lamone, a unanimous court sent the case back to a lower court to rule further on whether the new district was constitutional.
Still pending on appeal is a North Carolina case that challenged a GOP gerrymander of the state’s congressional districts. The justices have yet to say what they will do with that case.