Supreme Court Will Hear Wisconsin Partisan Gerrymandering Case

Claudine Rigal
Juin 26, 2017

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether partisan gerrymandering - in which voting districts are drawn to favor one party - is a time-honored American political tradition or has evolved into an unconstitutional rigging of elections.

The Supreme Court has been willing to invalidate state electoral maps on the grounds of racial discrimination, as it did May 22 when it found that Republican legislators in North Carolina had drawn two electoral districts to diminish the statewide political clout of black voters.

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson says the Republican governor "is confident Wisconsin's redistricting process is constitutional and is pleased to see the Supreme Court take the case".

The voters who are challenging the plan, led by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, argue that the map allowed Wisconsin's state Assembly to not resemble the electorate in a closely divided swing state that has supported presidential candidates from both parties and now has one Democrat and one Republican representing it in the U.S. Senate.

Schimel appealed a November 2016 ruling by a federal three-judge panel in the US 7th Circuit District Court that found Wisconsin's current State Assembly map to be unconstitutional on a 2-1 decision.

Election results since then have shown the redistricting had its intended effect, with the GOP winning a larger majority in the state assembly, even as the statewide tally of votes was almost even between Republicans and Democrats, the lower court said.

Last November, a panel of federal judges ruled against the state's electoral district map, which was drawn by Republican lawmakers after the 2010 census. They say party leaders have gone too far in rigging the system in their favor. "In this case, a lower court held that Wisconsin had indeed crossed that line", Steve Vladeck, professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law, told CNN. "When there's no opposition in elections that means that more extreme candidates win and I think the Supreme Court has agreed to hear this case because public opinion is really on the side of trying to do something about it".

Meanwhile, the dozen plaintiffs - voters across the state - said the evidence laid out at the trial in the case showed that "Republican legislative leaders authorised a secretive and exclusionary mapmaking process aimed at securing for their party a large advantage that would persist no matter what happened in future elections". The Republican National Committee and 12 Republican states have asked the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court's decision that the Wisconsin electoral map was an unconstitutionally partisan gerrymander.

The political maps the state's Republican lawmakers drew in 2011 are headed to the nation's highest court. Republicans argue that the results of the districts are hard to keep equal since Democrats tend to congregate together in the big cities.

The Supreme Court will likely be divided evenly about the decision, with Justice Kennedy as the wild card who could lean one way or the other. Said another way, Republicans control 77 percent of the seats, despite winning just 53 percent of the vote.

"As a result, in the first election under the plan", the statement continues, "Republicans won a supermajority of 60 out of 99 seats despite losing the statewide vote for the Assembly". Their test, known as the "efficiency gap", focuses on how frequently votes in a particular district are effectively wasted, either because they go to a candidate who loses or because they provide the victor with more support than was necessary.

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