Supreme Court took on gerrymandering case, could dramatically change future elections

Supreme Court took on gerrymandering case, could dramatically change future elections

Cheryl Sanders
June 23, 2017

Depending on the ruling, up to seven states' congressional maps could be affected - including Texas, according to Michael Li, redistricting and voting counsel at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice. But Kennedy refused to declare, as four colleagues would have, that partisan gerrymanders are necessarily insulated from judicial review.

The case of Gill vs. Whitford is to be heard in the fall, and it could yield one of the most important rulings on political power in decades.

In the Wisconsin case, a divided panel of three judges past year struck down the state's 2011 state assembly maps as drawn with discriminatory intent - "to entrench the Republican party in power" for the remainder of the decade.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington-based group that focuses on electing conservatives to state office positions, released a report in January 2013 detailing their successful $30 million multiyear campaign to influence state redistricting plans.

Wisconsin Republicans drew the maps in 2011 after they took full control of state government in the 2010 elections.

That's what makes this case so consequential. The liberal wing of the court - Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan - would not have blocked the order and let the redistricting proceed. In November, a panel of three federal judges struck down Act 43.

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.

Potter said the crux of the case in Wisconsin, as it is in IL and other states, is politicians pick their voters, not the other way around.

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". Said another way, Republicans control 77 percent of the seats, despite winning just 53 percent of the vote. In 2014, the party garnered 52 percent of the vote and 63 state Assembly seats.

Schools could still be disrupted, however, if the court rules the law unconstitutional in late July and requires immediate action from the Legislature.

"So they compare that district-by-district to the statewide total, and that gives them this efficiency gap measure". Packing is when a party's voters are concentrated in few districts that they win overwhelmingly. 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. "In this case, a lower court held that Wisconsin had indeed crossed that line", he told CNN.

The Wisconsin case might serve as a landmark decision if the court rules against partisan districting.

"Across the country, we're witnessing legislators of both parties seizing power from voters in order to advance their purely partisan purposes", Potter said. In 2004, Justice Anthony Kennedy staked out a position somewhere between those two views, saying courts could referee claims of excessively partisan redistricting, but only if they can find a workable way to do so.

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