Supreme Court to decide whether partisan gerrymandering is constitutional

Claudine Rigal
Juin 20, 2017

The commission oversees redistricting for both state legislative offices and congressional districts.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court justices could also be pondering arguments over questions of political gerrymandering in North Carolina.

If the justices uphold the lower court ruling, the "efficiency gap" model used by the plaintiffs in this case could applied to legislative and congressional district maps in all 50 states.

State and federal legislative district boundaries are reconfigured every decade after the census so that each one holds about same number of people, but are sometimes draw in a way that packs voters who tend to favor a particular party into certain districts so as to diminish their statewide voting power.

In a second order, the Supreme Court on a 5-4 vote granted a request from Schimel to block a requirement that Wisconsin draw new maps by November 1. The stay was opposed by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen, the court's four liberal-leaning justices.

In the election following adoption of the new maps, Republicans got just 48.6 percent of the statewide vote, but captured a 60-to-39 seat advantage in the State Assembly.

Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, which organized and launched the lawsuit on behalf of Democratic voters in Wisconsin, said later that lawyers for the voters were told that oral arguments would be scheduled for the first week of October.

"The court is surely aware that this decade produced some of the most aggressive partisan gerrymandering in the modern era", Pildes said.

Schimel had asked the Supreme Court to delay the drawing of new boundaries until after the court rules on the merits of the case, arguing that drawing new maps would be a waste of resources.

"The stay is particularly important because it preserves the Legislature's time, effort, and resources while this case is pending", wrote AG Schimel. A ruling will come sometime between late 2017 and June 2018. But the court was silent on whether to delay the drawing of new state Assembly district boundaries as ordered by a lower court panel.

The state argues recent election results favoring Republicans were 'a reflection of Wisconsin's natural political geography, ' with Democrats concentrated in urban areas like Milwaukee and Madison.

"Correct", responded Marc Elias, who was general counsel for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. Yet Democrats are more supportive of having courts rein in extreme districting plans, mainly because Republicans control more legislatures and drew districts after the 2010 census that enhanced their advantage in those states and in the House of Representatives. He said the Wisconsin case, along with others, "will halt these illegal maps, now and in the future".

The Supreme Court could soon decide whether the drawing of electoral districts can be too political.

The Supreme Court granted a request of both sides in the legal dispute to allow the law to "go into effect, as provided by the Legislature, until we have determined whether it satisfies Article 6 requirements" of the constitution.

Schimel said in a statement that he's "thrilled" the Supreme Court has taken the case.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt urged the Supreme Court last week to accept the revised funding formula and injection of about $293 million in state aid over the next two years as compliant with the Kansas Constitution's mandate to provide suitable education to all children.

While the precise schedule of Wisconsin's redistricting case is not yet known, experts say the court could hear oral arguments late this year or early next year, and a decision in the case is nearly sure to come by June 2018.

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. That weakened African-American voting strength elsewhere in the state, the court said.

In its decision, the majority in the court panel decision wrote that the Assembly district map, which was drawn in the office of a Madison law firm that often represents Republican interests, "was meant to burden the representational rights of Democratic impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats".

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