Democratic presidential candidates reacted with dismay on Thursday after the Supreme Court gave lawmakers the green light to gerrymander district maps, with several emphasizing their commitment to ending the practice.
The court’s ruling dealt a devastating blow to voting rights groups, who say the practice of drawing districts to suit a particular party or candidate threatens the very foundations of democracy and disproportionately affects voters of color.
“Politicians shouldn’t be able to pick their voters, voters should choose their representatives,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) wrote on Twitter. “The Supreme Court’s gerrymandering decision will have drastic consequences for the future of our nation.” She added that she would work to ban gerrymandering as president.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called the decision an “abomination” and noted that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has bizarrely described anti-gerrymandering efforts as somehow “socialist.”
“I’m done playing by a different set of rules,” Warren said in a tweet, outlining her plan to require that states use “independent redistricting commissions” to draw fair maps. She went as far as to threaten to end the filibuster if Republicans stand in her way.
Former Vice President Joe Biden responded by urging Americans to vote for a Democrat in the 2020 race, saying the recent decision “couldn’t have happened without Justices put there by Donald Trump and Republicans.”
Others among the pool of more than two dozen candidates, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, have also voiced support for legislation that would end gerrymandering as part of plans to defend fair elections.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his 5-4 majority decision that the question of what constitutes gerrymandering is beyond the court’s reach, because there are no adequate standards by which to judge which maps are and are not acceptable. The court’s four other conservative justices voted with him.
Writing for the minority, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the “practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government,” and warned that emerging technology will only make the problem worse.
“Part of the Court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations,” she wrote. “None is more important than free and fair elections. With respect but deep sadness, I dissent.”
In its other major ruling of the day, the Supreme Court prevented, for now, the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the census. It was a partial victory for states, cities and civil rights groups who say that adding a citizenship question would result in a less accurate census, as fewer noncitizens would be likely to participate.
“Make no mistake, the Trump Administration added a citizenship question to the Census to deliberately cut out the voices of immigrants and communities of color,” Biden wrote on Twitter.
Warren took time from a visit to a Florida migrant detention camp to post a Twitter thread calling the ruling a “welcome relief” but noting that it may still be possible for the Trump administration to add the question.
“And if they do, I have a plan for that,” she said.
This story has been updated throughout.