A bipartisan group of former governors, represented by the States United Democracy Center and former Utah state legislator David R. Irvine, P.C., is urging the Utah Supreme Court to hold that extreme partisan gerrymandering violates the state constitution. The group filed a friend-of-the-court brief in League of Women Voters of Utah v. Utah State Legislature, supporting a challenge to congressional maps adopted by the Utah legislature.
The brief, signed by former North Carolina Governor Mike Easley, former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, and former Massachusetts Governor William F. Weld, discusses several provisions of the Utah Constitution that extreme partisan gerrymandering may violate, including the Free Elections Clause. In the brief, the former governors call on their previous experience to showcase how extreme partisan gerrymandering damages democracy, encourages political polarization, and makes governing more difficult.
“Allowing extreme partisan gerrymandering to go unchecked would suggest to legislatures across the country that they have permission to ignore their voters and take more power for themselves,” said former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, Co-Chair of the States United Democracy Center. “As former governors, we’ve all seen how much more difficult it is to get things done when officials prioritize partisan power over voters in the redistricting process. For the sake of Utah and our democracy, the court should uphold the state constitution and reject extreme partisan gerrymandering.”
The brief is the latest step in a case that began in March 2022, when the League of Women Voters of Utah, Mormon Women for Ethical Government, and a group of Utah voters went to Utah state court to contest congressional maps adopted by the legislature. The legislature’s request for the court to dismiss the case in full was denied. The legislature then appealed to the Utah Supreme Court, where oral arguments will be heard on July 11.
“This case is about giving voters a fair playing field,” said former North Carolina Governor Mike Easley. “In upholding its own constitution, the Utah Supreme Court has the opportunity to make sure that all voters in the state have an equal voice and opportunity to choose their leaders. This Court should step up and protect Utah voters.”
“Redistricting is meant to ensure that all voters have an equal voice in our democracy. When extreme partisan gerrymandering comes into play, voters’ voices are silenced,” said former Massachusetts Governor William F. Weld. “Gerrymandering violates the most basic principle of our democracy: Voters get to choose their politicians, not the other way around. Utahns deserve better.”
Key excerpts from the brief are included below.
“The modern practice of extreme partisan gerrymandering is not just inconsistent with our founding principles; it harms the workings of our democracy. As former governors of diverse states, amici have witnessed the negative effects of partisan gerrymandering on our political landscape. Partisan gerrymandering encourages polarization, hindering the sensible governance that has been the cornerstone of our nation’s success. By allowing legislatures to establish permanent and inflated majorities, it distorts our balanced structure of representative government, exaggerating the factional interests of carefully carved districts and diminishing the statewide interests represented by governors. Instead of creating a government that can pass laws through collaboration, gerrymandering enhances polarization and creates insurmountable ideological gaps between elected officials. Gerrymandering not only jeopardizes the effectiveness of the state’s governor, whose mandate is to represent the entire state, but it undermines the lynchpins of representative government: building consensus, working in collaboration, and finding common ground for the good of the whole. …
“As former governors of diverse states, amici have experienced how extreme partisan gerrymandering distorts our democracy. It makes our politics more divisive and thwarts the kinds of common-sense compromises that make government work. Like courts in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Alaska, this Court should hold that extreme partisan gerrymandering violates the Utah Constitution.”
The Utah state legislature’s attempt to seize unilateral power over the redistricting process is one of many attempts across the country to usurp the checks and balances that protect our democracy. As states continue to redraw their maps based on the 2020 census, the States United Democracy Center is taking legal action to oppose extreme partisan gerrymandering and support fair maps. Read more about States United’s redistricting work here.