Opinion: The Moore decision empowers Utah courts to overturn gerrymandered congressional districts

The June 27 US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) Moore v. Harper decision sent a clear message regarding the courts’ authority to ensure free and fair elections through judicial checks on legislative actions. SCOTUS specifically rejected the North Carolina Legislature’s claim to unrestrained power over redistricting. Notably, North Carolina’s Supreme Court had overturned overtly gerrymandered maps drawn by the legislature, but then reversed itself after gaining more Republican judges. Thus, by preserving the North Carolina Supreme Court’s right of oversight, ironically, this SCOTUS decision upheld the gerrymandered maps

We urge Utah’s Supreme Court to apply the Moore v. Harper decision to The League of Women Voters v. the Utah Legislature case it will hear on July 11. When Utahns passed the Better Boundaries ballot initiative they made known their desire for a fair, independent redistricting process that maintained the integrity of communities of interest. The legislature totally disregarded that law as it drew Congressional Districts designed to disenfranchise Salt Lake County, the state’s most populous and “left-leaning” area. It was classic “cracking”—the splitting communities of interest in order to dilute their influence. 

Some legislators have suggested that giving Salt Lake County a representative would also be gerrymandering, as it would “pack” most Utah Democrats into one district. However, nearly a third of the state’s population voted “D” but still has no voice in Congress. Further, Salt Lake County clearly is a community of interest, with needs and issues that differ from those of rural Utah. 

We ask the Utah’s justices to honor the Better Boundaries’ intent, invalidate the current maps, and give Salt Lake County a voice. The Moore ruling acknowledges your authority to do so. We also ask the Legislature to end its repeated efforts to silence Utahns and the courts. Democracy depends on real representation. Democracy matters. 

Dr. Ellen Brady is the Issues Director for the Women’s Democratic Club of Utah