Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Wisconsin Gerrymandering Case

Posted June 20, 2017

If the justices uphold a lower court's ruling, it would be the first time Supreme Court justices would be striking down a state's district boundaries for violating the Constitution because of political gerrymandering.

The Supreme Court indicated on Monday that it will hear what could become the biggest and most significant election law case in years: a partisan gerrymandering case from Wisconsin whose final outcome will affect elections across the country for decades to come.

That court said Wisconsin lawmakers redrew the state's legislative districts after the 2010 census to unlawfully maximize the number of Republicans elected and dilute the power of Democratic voters. Although Republicans and Democrats split the vote in the 2016 general election, the GOP has a 2-1 advantage in the state legislature.

The case under review comes from Wisconsin, but about one-third of the maps drawn for Congress and state legislatures could be affected by the justices' ruling. The stay was opposed by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen, the court's four liberal-leaning justices.

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel (SHIH'-mehl) says he is "thrilled" the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a lawsuit brought by Democrats challenging redistricting maps drawn by Republicans.

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The justices regularly are called to invalidate state electoral maps that have been illegally drawn to reduce the influence of racial minorities by depressing the impact of their votes.

One of the factors that the court considers in putting a lower court ruling on hold is whether there is a fairly good chance that the lower court will be overturned, when a decision is made by the Justices.

"If the Supreme Court actually decides to rein in partisan gerrymandering, I think it would have the effect of helping Democrats in the short term, because there are more legislatures that are controlled by Republicans", Hasen said.

While the Supreme Court has written critically of partisan gerrymandering in the past, it has never struck down a gerrymander on partisan grounds and has yet to establish a standard to determine when it is permissible to do so.

Previous year a district court ordered Wisconsin to produce a new, less partisan map in time for the 2018 election.

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"The maps were in place and Republicans gained seats in '12, '14, and '16". State and federal legislative district boundaries are reconfigured every decade after the census, so each holds about same number of people. "The essential question is whether the court will finally accept a new standard and block partisan gerrymandering, or continue the court's stated disapproval of excessive partisan gerrymandering while never finding one to overrule", League of Women Voters president Chris Carson said.

"That's a message to other states that they also need to prevent partisanship from going too far", Burden said.

The measurement could appeal to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has said he is willing to referee claims of excessively partisan redistricting, but only if the court can find a workable way to do so. The plaintiffs, complaining about an egregious Republican gerrymander of the state legislature, have come up with a new test to measure when politics has over-infiltrated the redistricting process.

The Supreme Court agrees to take on accusations of gerrymandering in Wisconsin.

In 2012, after the map was introduced, Republicans won 60 seats in the 99-seat Assembly, even though the party's candidates won 48.6 percent of the two-party vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. "In 2014 and 2016, Republicans extended their advantage to 63 and 64 seats, respectively, even though the statewide vote remained almost tied".

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