How voting impacts the Supreme Court and vice-versa (gerrymandering)
We know what the implications this election will have for our healthcare, civil rights, and environmental regulations––but the congressional debates and executive orders surrounding these topics distract us from the body that will have the most impact on these issues: The Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court is comprised of nine justices, each of whom is nominated by the President and voted on by the Senate after a stretch of hearings and review of their record. The Trump Administration nominated two conservative justices to fill the seats of the deceased Antonin Scalia and retired Anthony Kennedy, with Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh occupying those seats today. While liberals expected these two to be staunch pro-Trump conservatives on the bench, as of today the court has voted in favor of protections for LGBTQ+ employees in the workplace, while ceding some abortion protections granted by the Roe v Wade ruling. While it hasn’t all been good news, the sloppy paperwork and fatuous legal reasoning by the Trump Administration has prevented the conservatives on the bench from voting furthering the President’s agenda.
These victories unfortunately may prove fleeting, as they hinge on the health and age of the liberal-leaning justices of the court on the libertarian tendencies of the conservative Gorsuch. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s health has been an ongoing story throughout this administration, with the 87-year-old battling cancer and missing oral arguments in 2018 after a fall where she broke three ribs. Bader Ginsburg’s workout routine and diet could put Tom Brady’s TB12 regimen to shame, but considering how many rulings over the last few years have been 5-4 verdicts, Ginsburg’s age weighs heavily on not only policy decisions by the court but the upcoming election, as this next term is almost guaranteed to choose her successor.
In addition to the upstream effects of our vote in affecting the court, we have to think about how our own vote is affected by the court and its rulings. As we’ve seen in North Carolina––among many other states––, state legislatures dominated by the Republican Party have taken it upon themselves to rewrite the electoral map to suit their needs, with minorities being heavily concentrated in specific districts or scattered to the point where their vote doesn’t matter anymore. When North Carolina Democrats challenged the maps in Rucho v Common Cause in 2019, the court voted 5-4 that such questions were “beyond the power of the federal courts.” While the state court ruled the maps invalid, you can see how the Supreme Court has an appreciable impact on our capacity to vote; if they choose not to get involved, other state courts may not be so generous.
This election is not just about the Presidency or who will represent us in Congress. With Ruth Bader-Ginsburg and Breyer in their 80s, the next two Presidential terms are more imperative than ever in shaping the outlook of the Supreme Court, and with it the constitutionality of protections on our healthcare, on civil rights for our LGBTQ+ comrades, and even how effective our vote will be for years to come. Your vote isn’t just to defeat Donald Trump but to protect the integrity of the court.