Chief Justice John Roberts had a particularly lively dissent on the Supreme Court’s redistricting ruling Monday.
In a 5-4 decision, the US’ high court ruled that independent commissions could play a role in reshaping legislative districts every decade in order to account for population shifts. But to Roberts, the Constitution’s 17th Amendment clearly gives the state legislatures this power.
“What chumps!” Roberts wrote of the historical figures who pushed for that amendment.
“The Amendment resulted from an arduous, decades-long campaign in which reformers across the country worked hard to garner approval from Congress and three-quarters of the States. What chumps! Didn’t they realise that all they had to do was interpret the constitutional term ‘the Legislature’ to mean ‘the people’?” Roberts asked sarcastically. “The Court today performs just such a magic trick with the Elections Clause.”
Roberts’ dissent then offers a lengthy rebuttal to the idea that authority given to a state’s “legislature” could ever go to an independent commission instead, saying that the decision amounted to a “judicial error of the most basic order.”
Supporters of independent commissions argue that they are an important tool to reduce partisan gerrymandering and have more representative district boundaries. However, Roberts argued that redistricting reformers should focus on amending the Constitution as the writers of the 17th Amendment did.
“Unfortunately, today’s decision will only discourage this democratic method of change,” he concluded. “Why go through the hassle of writing a new provision into the Constitution when it is so much easier to write an old one out?”
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