The justices say Monday they will decide whether Republican lawmakers drew electoral districts so out of whack with the state’s political breakdown that they violated the constitutional rights of Democratic voters.
Defenders of the Wisconsin plan argue that the election results it produced are similar to those under earlier court-drawn maps. Democrats and those aligned with them took that order as a sign they could lose the case.
The Washington-based Campaign Legal Center, whose attorneys are serving as co-counsel representing 12 Wisconsin voters, praised the court’s decision to hear the case.
The stakes could not be higher for this fundamental question now facing the Court.
“This is a blockbuster”. Packing is fairly self-explanatory: the state legislature stuffs the opposition party’s voters into a single district, thus diluting each individual vote.
Longtime Democratic Party activist Bill Whitford brought the case Gill v. Whitford, which challenges Wisconsin’s 2011 State Assembly map as unconstitutional.
The state and the school districts will have until Friday, June 30, to submit briefs. “We’re hoping the Supreme Court will release us from this sorry state”. In the past, the four most conservative justices (then including Antonin Scalia) have written that the courts should stay out of the issue altogether, while the four more progressive ones have disagreed.
But of the five justices in that majority, only two, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Anthony Kennedy, remain.
Enter the Wisconsin case.
Agreeing with that assessment was Rick Hasen, a professor who specializes in election law at the University of California, Irvine.
Both sides will be pitching their arguments to Kennedy.
Maps are re-drawn by lawmakers periodically, in order to assign congressional representatives in proportion to USA census data. They now have their largest majorities in the state House and Senate in decades.
The case started when Republicans gained complete control of Wisconsin’s government in 2010 for the first time in more than 40 years.
“There is no question”, said the 2-1 ruling, that the map drawn by Wisconsin’s legislature “was created to make it more hard for Democrats, compared to Republicans, to translate their votes into seats”.
The case could have national implications.
The case involves district lines in Wisconsin that challengers say were drawn unconstitutionally to benefit Republicans.
Lawmakers often take areas with a high percentage of voters for the opposing party and slice them up to be a small part of other districts that are more favorable to their party. He said on Monday that Wisconsin’s “redistricting process was entirely lawful and constitutional, and the district court should be reversed”.
William Whitford, a Democratic activist who is the lead plaintiff, called the maps undemocratic. “They are trying to accomplish by delay what they couldn’t prove in court”.
“Partisan gerrymandering of this kind is worse now than at any time in recent memory”, Smith added.
More broadly, the Court should rule that pure political motivations for election rules are unfair and unlawful. They hold 64 of 99 seats.
U.S. District Judge William Griesbach of the state’s Eastern District dissented. Gerrymandering on racial grounds has always been understood as potentially unconstitutional (indeed, Republican legislators have often defended racially suspect gerrymanders as “merely” partisan).
Why is the Supreme Court looking at Wisconsin?
In most states, elected officials usually redraw the district maps once a decade for electing candidates to the state legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2014, the party garnered 52 percent of the vote and 63 Assembly seats. The ruling was the first time in over three decades that a federal court invalidated a redistricting plan for partisan bias. One such standard – dubbed the “efficiency gap” – counts the number of “wasted” votes for winning candidates in districts purposely packed with the opposition party’s voters, as well as for losing candidates in districts where those voters were purposely scattered.
Past year a district court ordered Wisconsin to produce a new, less partisan map in time for the 2018 election.