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Utah And Colorado Efforts To End Gerrymandering Unfazed By Supreme Court Ruling

US Supreme Court building. / Phillip Nelson

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision Thursday that states and federal lawmakers, not courts, are responsible for ending political gerrymandering.

“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in his majority opinion. “Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties.”

Gerrymandering, in which an incumbent party draws voting maps in a way that makes it easier for its own members to get elected, was the target of ballot initiatives in Colorado and Utah that were passed by voters in the last election. 

Utah’s Proposition 4 establishes a bipartisan commission of citizens — appointed by the state legislature and the governor — that would take over redistricting. 

Better Boundaries, a bipartisan group which backed the ballot measure, said the Supreme court ruling had no effect on efforts to end gerrymandering in the state because it only ruled that the practice was not an issue the federal courts should tackle. 

In Colorado, Amendments Y and Z went a step further and established an independent redistricting commission free from political appointees. Amanda Gonzalez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, a non-profit advocacy group that backed the ballot initiatives, said she was disappointed by the ruling. 

“The Supreme Court really ducked its responsibility to end partisan gerrymandering,” she said.

Gonzalez acknowledged, however, that the ruling also put more pressure on states to tackle political gerrymandering themselves. 

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

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