Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the Court, began the opinion by detailing the extensive history of partisan gerrymandering. There were instances of partisan gerrymandering occurring throughout the colonies prior to independence and, according to the Chief Justice, the framers were well aware of this practice. Despite being aware of the practice, through the Elections Clause in article I §4 of the Constitution, the framers assigned state legislatures the power to determine the time, place, and manner of the election of congressional representatives. Furthermore, through the Elections Clause Congress was granted oversight power to “make or alter” any state regulations. Congress exercised this power in an attempt to end partisan gerrymandering in the Apportionment Act of 1842.
The Chief Justice opined that is was difficult to create a “clear, manageable, and politically neutral” test for fairness because it is unclear what fairness looks like in the context of partisan gerrymandering. He then went on to discuss how fairness could take the form of ensuring each district is competitive, but it could also take the form of “engaging in cracking,” dividing a party’s supporters among multiple districts, and “packing,” highly concentrating a party’s supporters into one district, “to ensure each party its ‘appropriate’ share of ‘safe’ seats.” Rucho, 139 S. Ct. 2500. Quoting the late Justice Scalia, the Chief Justice wrote,
“Fairness” does not seem to us a judicially manageable standard. . . . Some criterion more solid and more demonstrably met than that seems to us necessary to enable the state legislatures to discern the limits of their districting discretion, to meaningfully constrain the discretion of the courts, and to win public acceptance for the courts’ intrusion into a process that is the very foundation of democratic decision-making.
Vieth, 541 U. S. at 291.
Ultimately, the Court ruled against all of the plaintiff’s claims, instead finding that partisan advantage is a permissible intent behind districting choices, and that the issue is to be left to the legislature because “there are no legal standards discernible in the Constitution for making such judgments, let alone limited and precise standards that are clear, manageable, and politically neutral.” Rucho, 139 S. Ct. 2500-02.