Partisan Supremacy

How the GOP Enlisted Courts to Rig America's Election Rules

Terri Jennings Peretti

“I have no agenda,” US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts proclaimed at his Senate confirmation hearing: “My job is to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.” This declaration was in keeping with the avowed independence of the judiciary. It also, when viewed through the lens of Roberts’s election law decisions, appears to be false. With a scrupulous reading of judicial decisions and a careful assessment of partisan causes and consequences, Terri Jennings Peretti tells the story of the GOP’s largely successful campaign to enlist judicial aid for its self-interested election reform agenda.

Partisan Supremacy explores four contemporary election law issues—voter identification, gerrymandering, campaign finance, and the preclearance regime of the Voting Rights Act—to uncover whether Republican politicians and Republican judges have collaborated to tilt America’s election rules in the GOP’s favor. Considering cases from Shelby County v. Holder, which enfeebled the Voting Rights Act, to Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, which upheld restrictive voter identification laws, to Citizens United and McCutcheon, which loosened campaign finance restrictions, Peretti lays bare the reality of “friendly” judicial review and partisan supremacy when it comes to election law. She nonetheless finds a mixed verdict in the redistricting area that reveals the limits of partisan control over judicial decisions. Peretti’s book helpfully places the current GOP’s voter suppression campaign in historical context by acknowledging similar efforts by the post–Civil War Democratic Party. While the modern Democratic Party seeks electoral advantage by expanding voting by America’s minorities and youth, arguably hewing closer to democratic principles, neither party is immune to the powerful incentive to bend election rules in its favor.

“What an excellent book! Peretti thoroughly documents how Republicans in the New Right political regime created electoral advantages for themselves and disadvantaged Democrats through changes in election law including ballot restrictions, redistricting, campaign finance deregulation, and scaling back voting rights. Peretti’s empirical analyses reveal how GOP electoral and legislative success was bolstered by a conservative legal movement and partisan judiciary.”

—Artemus Ward, coauthor of American Judicial Process: Myth and Reality in Law and Courts

“This book is a well-written and well-researched examination of the question of whether recent Republican appointees to the US Supreme Court and other federal courts have handed down election law, campaign finance reform, and redistricting decisions that favor the needs of the GOP. Using regime theory and original data, the author offers a nuanced conclusion that Republican-appointed justices and judges do tend to favor the needs of the Republican Party in these cases, although the outcome is not as simplistic as some might expect. This book is a welcome addition to the literature for scholars and students alike who want to learn more about how the Supreme Court has approached these election-related controversies in our democracy.”

—Mark C. Miller, professor of political science and director of the Law and Society Program, Clark University

In view of the evidence that Partisan Supremacy brings to light, we are left with a critical and pressing question: Can democracy survive in the face of partisan collaboration across the branches of government on critical election issues?

About the Author

Terri Jennings Peretti is a professor in the Department of Political Science at Santa Clara University.