As business leaders in the mid-Atlantic region of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, we are disappointed with the Supreme Court's decision that the federal courts have no role in policing the practice of extreme partisan gerrymandering, whereby the party that controls the state legislature draws voting maps to favor their candidates and disadvantage political opponents. A system that allows politicians to pick their voters, rather than the other way around, only perpetuates the dysfunction and incivility that has increasingly come to define our national politics.
We are Democrats, Republicans and independents, but we are all Americans first, united in our concern about the functioning of our democracy. We believe the time is long past due to fix our broken politics and the partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C., that precludes our political leaders from addressing pressing national concerns. This endemic dysfunction in our government stems from incentives in politics that promote ideological purity over pragmatic problem-solving and cooperation. That has to change. We believe anti-gerrymandering measures are the logical starting point for reform, and they are urgently needed in our home states.
Certainly the Supreme Court's decision has shifted responsibility for this weighty issue directly to the states. Writing for the court's conservative majority in two 5-4 decisions examining partisan gerrymandering in Maryland and North Carolina, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the drafters of the Constitution gave the task of drawing election districts to the states fully aware that politics would play a role. Seeming to shut the door on federal judges second-guessing those decisions, Justice Roberts wrote that "partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts."
Last month's ruling leaves it squarely up to the states to define the proper boundaries and methodologies for redistricting, and the rules for ensuring they are respected. The looming 2020 census and the redistricting that will follow lend urgency to gerrymandering reform efforts, promising to have a profound impact on the tenor of our politics for the decade to come. Without reforms making redistricting more fair and transparent, we fear government dysfunction will continue — a political gridlock that is detrimental to our communities, businesses and families.
We urge political leaders at the state level, on both sides of the political aisle, to seize this opportunity to implement meaningful reform by establishing neutral, independent or bipartisan commissions to draw fair election maps. As the U.S. District Court of Maryland suggested, the process should respect "traditional criteria for redistricting — such as geographic continuity, compactness, regard for natural boundaries and boundaries of political subdivisions, and regard for geographic and other communities of interest — and without considering how citizens are registered to vote or have voted in the past or to what political party they belong."
We applaud a major step in that direction taken just this year by Virginia lawmakers, who passed a redistricting reform measure that would create a bipartisan commission to draw congressional and state legislative districts. To become part of Virginia's constitution the amendment must still pass again in both houses in 2020 — and win approval by voters in the November 2020 general election — but the reform was a major step toward the light of transparency in creating legislative districts.
We similarly urge Maryland lawmakers to seize the opportunity and embrace the concept of a neutral redistricting commission. Maryland should join five other states that have passed anti-gerrymandering initiatives just in the past two years (Michigan, Missouri, Colorado, Utah and Ohio).
With a fast-approaching 2020 election and national census, now is the time to pass bipartisan anti-gerrymandering reform. We call on politicians of goodwill on both sides of the political aisle to put nation over party in this weighty moment, and do the right thing for American democracy: end partisan gerrymandering.