The words to the victor go the spoils never appear in a pair of major Supreme Court decisions that Chief Justice John Roberts delivered today, but they might as well have.
By upholding partisan gerrymandering in virtually any instance that does not involve racial discrimination, the Supreme Court enshrined the nation’s modern form of winner-take-all politics into law today. Roberts, writing for the Court’s 5–4 conservative majority, declared that the federal courts would not referee political disputes over the drawing of election districts, essentially giving both Republicans and Democrats a free hand to create maps that could keep themselves in power. “Partisan gerrymandering claims,” the Court held, “present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.”
In other words: If you want to write the rules and draw the districts, you’d better win. Roberts and a majority of the Court came to the same conclusion in a second significant decision this morning involving the exercise—and apportionment—of political power, even though its impact might not be felt for another decade or longer. The Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution grants Congress and “by extension” the executive branch the power to add a citizenship question to the decennial census, despite concern that doing so will depress response rates among immigrant populations fearful of deportation. Because the census count helps determine everything from the number of congressional seats to the amount of federal spending that states get, the prospect of lower response rates in specific communities could have enormous implications.