Obama-Holder Group Dealt Blow with SCOTUS Gerrymandering Decision

Ruling says federal courts must stay out of state gerrymandering challenges

Former Attorney General Eric Holder / Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court's gerrymandering decision dealt a blow to liberal activist groups, including one founded by former attorney general Eric Holder and backed by President Barack Obama.

The Court ruled 5-4 on Thursday that federal courts must stay out of partisan gerrymandering cases involving state-drawn congressional maps. The decision was a major setback for groups such as the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), an organization backed by former president Obama and founded by former attorney general Holder.

"Excessive partisanship in districting leads to results that reasonably seem unjust," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. "But the fact that such gerrymandering is ‘incompatible with democratic principles,' does not mean that the solution lies with the federal judiciary."

Democrats and their financial backers have spent millions building institutions devoted to combatting the congressional maps drawn by Republican-controlled statehouses in the wake of the 2010 GOP wave. J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation and a former Justice Department staffer under the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, said groups like the NRDC arose to undermine state legislatures.

"Giving federal courts the power to rule on partisan imbalances in legislative lines has been a top priority of Democrats and leftist process hounds for years. Why? Because the vast majority of America, when considered state by state, leans right and elects Republicans to majorities in state legislatures. They wanted federal judges in those states to blunt the power of state legislatures," Adams said in an analysis. He added that the Supreme Court "drove a final stake through the heart of partisan gerrymandering cases. They are done, dead, RIP. Consider this their obituary."

Redistricting challenges from the left have been more forceful in recent years, with Obama and Holder's group leading the charge. The NRDC criticized the ruling in a statement. Holder said it "tears at the fabric of our democracy and puts the interests of the established few above the many."

"History will not be kind in its assessment of the ways in which this court has undermined voting rights and core democratic principles in America," Holder said.

Prior to leaving the White House, Obama held a quiet strategy session with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), and former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe. The leading Democrats identified breaking up Republican-controlled legislatures as a priority.

Holder has said that the NDRC's mission is personal to Obama, who resented Republicans for making it harder to achieve his goals after they regained the U.S. House of Representatives during his tenure.

"The tasks that he had placed before him were made a lot more difficult, progress a lot more difficult, than it needed to be," Holder told the New York Times in 2017. "That's because of the Congress that he had to deal with, which was a function of the 2010 redistricting effort.

The NDRC additionally sent out a fundraising email Thursday afternoon saying that the decision will allow lawmakers to "effectively continue to manipulate maps" without federal courts intervening. The group asked its supporters for donations to train local activists and organizers on redistricting, educate communities on how they can "demand fair maps" from elected officials, and mobilize so politicians can't "cut deals, choose their own voters, or guarantee their own re-election."

The NRDC is currently focusing its efforts "to shift power away from Republicans" in Kentucky, Louisiana, Virginia, and Wisconsin. For 2020, the group will expand its campaigns to Florida, Georgia, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and will double down on Wisconsin efforts. The group is targeting three gubernatorial races, 13 state legislative chambers, and one down-ballot race, its website states.

Scott Walker, the former governor of Wisconsin who is now the finance chairman of the National Republican Redistricting Trust, said that decision pulled federal courts out of the "business of picking winners and losers in redistricting cases."

"This is not the end of our fight. The battle to protect our country from Barack Obama and Eric Holder’s plan to hijack our elections now moves to the states," Walker said. "Democrats will double down on flipping state Supreme Courts and bring more lawsuits to be heard by friendly judges they helped to elect — just like they have already done in Pennsylvania and North Carolina and tried to do in Wisconsin."

The NDRC raised a total of $11 million to its federal PAC and 501(c)3 and (c)4 arms in the first six months of 2017. The money came mostly through five briefings from Holder, Pelosi, and McAuliffe to donors in Boston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington. The group set its 2018 fundraising goals at $30 million.