The board and staff of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation are relieved the Supreme Court blocked the administration’s plan to place a citizenship question on the 2020 census. As we stated when we signed an amicus brief to the court in April, the question would have depressed response rates among already hard-to-count communities, robbing them of resources and political reputation. It also would have impaired our work and that of our partners, as we rely on accurate population and economic data to guide our efforts.
We are dismayed, however, by the high court’s decision to allow partisan gerrymandering. One of our deepest held beliefs – and one of our pathways to lasting change – is that our democracy works best when everyone has equal access to the levers of power. We believe the vote is sacred and must be protected. We believe voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around. Indeed, in 1964’s Reynolds v Sims decision, the Supreme Court applied the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution to determine legislatures should draw fair districts, a principle commonly known as “one person, one vote.” Partisan gerrymandering stymies the true range of values in many places across the United States.
Many of our grantee partners work to increase civic engagement in difficult places around the South, a region with a long, dark history of voter suppression and gerrymandering. As with 2013’s Shelby v Holder ruling, which struck down the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, this decision will certainly hamper our partners’ efforts to build power in communities of color and low-wealth places.
The good news is, there are hundreds of thousands of changemakers across the region who believe in the power of people. They operate in networked ways to improve rules, relationships, policies, hearts and minds to make democracy work better for everyone. They have seen dark days before, but they carry lessons from their elders and apply them to effect lasting change despite daunting odds. We will continue to support them in every way we can. Our partners are steadfast, and so are we.