Supreme Court Takes Up Wisconsin Gerrymandering Case

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch walk down the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington D.C. on June 15. The court is wrapping up its term with a handful of consequential cases decided on Monday

The Supreme Court declared Monday that it will consider whether gerrymandered election maps favoring one political party over another violate the Constitution, a potentially fundamental change in the way American elections are conducted.

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments on whether a lower court ruled correctly that Wisconsin's legislative district map is unconstitutional, and granted a stay of that lower court's order that required Assembly Republicans to draw new district lines this year.

The team working on behalf of the Democratic voters contends that it has found a way to measure unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders created to give a "large and durable" advantage in elections to pone party - a measure that the Supreme Court has said was lacking in previous cases contending a partisan gerrymander.

Democrats in Maryland drew plenty of crazily shaped districts to help their party in 2011 - its Third District has been likened to a "praying mantis" - but a federal lawsuit challenging the state's last round of redistricting is focused on one: the Sixth District, which yoked Democratic voters from the Washington suburbs to Republican voters in the rural west of the state.

Republicans have more to lose in next term's case because they control state legislatures in many more states than the Democrats do, and they stand to maximize that advantage again after the 2020 census.

A three-judge panel said on a 2-1 vote that the Republican-drawn map was so partisan it violated the Constitution's free-speech and equal protection clauses. In the process, the Supreme Court will decide the rules every other state has to follow too. Democratic voters are clustered in cities such as Milwaukee and Madison, while Republican voters are more evenly spread out.


Even as the court agreed to hear the case, the justices sent a signal they may be skeptical of the challengers' arguments.

The federal court that struck down the districts adopted an equation that offers a way to measure the partisan nature of the districts.

La Crosse Sen. Jennifer Shilling, Wisconsin state Senate Democratic minority leader: "Regardless of the outcome in this case, we must remain committed to promoting election fairness, protecting voter rights and preserving our shared democratic values". As I have said before, our redistricting process was entirely lawful and constitutional, and the district court should be reversed.

The Supreme Court will take up the Wisconsin case this fall.

The fifth and decisive vote was cast by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who left the door open to revisiting the issue if a manageable test could be found for evaluating how much is too much partisanship. In Wisconsin, the Republicans were in charge so they tried to pack as many Democrats as they could into the fewest number of districts. In the 2016 election, Republicans won 10 of 13 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives while receiving just 304,000 more total combined votes in the 13 House races. In the past, cases that seek to end partisan gerrymandering have failed, because the justices were unable to concur on what the standard for constitutional districting was. It could alter the tradition of political parties redrawing voting districts for their political advantage.

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