The Supreme Court is putting the redrawing of Wisconsin legislative districts on hold while the justices consider the issue of partisan gerrymandering.
The appeals court found that Wisconsin’s map was meant to entrench one party in power over the life of the districting plan. “I am pleased that the Court granted our request on this important issue”.
“Gerrymandering” refers to the practice of drawing legislative district lines to favor incumbents, political parties or interest groups.
Up to one-third of electoral maps in the U.S. could be affected by the justices’ ruling, which is expected in the autumn. “We’re hoping the Supreme Court will release us from this sorry state”.
The district court judges ruled the current maps favor Republican candidates to the point where twelve Democratic plaintiffs who filed a 2015 lawsuit are being deprived of their constitutional rights by having to cast “wasted ballots”.
Previous year a district court ordered Wisconsin to produce a new, less partisan map in time for the 2018 election. The dissenting judge said that Wisconsin might have been politically motivated but the state complied with traditional redistricting principles that the Supreme Court has previously upheld.
Although the court has ruled against state electoral maps due to racial gerrymandering, this could be the first case in which the court decides just how much partisan gerrymandering is too much.
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel says he is “thrilled” the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a lawsuit brought by Democrats challenging redistricting maps drawn by Republicans.
Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law, told CNN that this case could have “enormous ramifications”.
If the Legislature is forced to draw new maps, they’d have to be more competitive, which would give Democrats a better shot at winning legislative seats than they have right now. Wisconsin Republicans dispute the assertion that they intentionally engineered a biased map, arguing that partisan skews in the map reflect a natural geographic advantage they have in redistricting as a result of Democrats clustering in cities while Republicans are spread out more evenly throughout the state. For example, in 2012, the Republican party received about 49% of the vote but won 60 of 99 seats in the state assembly. In 2014, the party garnered 52 percent of the vote and 63 Assembly seats. The Republican National Committee and a dozen large GOP states have asked justices to reverse the Wisconsin decision. Conversely, by splitting those same partisan voters into multiple districts, they are said to be “cracked” into districts to avoid being able to elect one of their own.
Venturing into what one justice recently called the “always unsavory” process of drawing election districts for partisan advantage, the court will try to set a standard – something it has failed to do in the past. Similar cases are reportedly pending in North Carolina and Maryland.
“Partisan gerrymandering of this kind is worse now than at any time in recent memory”, said Paul Smith of the Campaign Legal Center, who will argue the case next fall.
Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts (R) and associate Justice Neil Gorsuch are joined by Louise Gorsuch during his investiture ceremony at the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., June 15, 2017.