Supreme Court takes up Wisconsin gerrymandering

Supreme Court takes up Wisconsin gerrymandering

Last November, federal judges in Madison ruled 2-1 that the Republican-led Wisconsin legislature's redrawing of legislative districts in 2011 amounted to "an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander", a manipulation of electoral boundaries for unfair political advantage. As Johnson said, then-President Barack Obama did well in the state when he was re-elected in 2012, and "yet Democrats gained no seats in the Legislature, remained deeply in the minority".

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

The Supreme Court on Monday stepped, somewhat hesitantly, into the long-standing constitutional controversy over partisan gerrymandering, accepting a major test case for review and giving itself several issues to consider. As Yale Law School dean Heather Gerken noted in a Vox piece following the initial district court decision, a gap above that amount indicates that the disadvantaged party "would have nearly no chance of taking control of the legislature during the 10-year districting cycle".

In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a partisan gerrymander in Pennsylvania was constitutional and that it was not within the purview of the court to strike it down.

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.

"If the Supreme Court actually decides to rein in partisan gerrymandering, I think it would have the effect of helping Democrats in the short term, because there are more legislatures that are controlled by Republicans", Hasen said.

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

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The court ordered a redrawing of political districts be in place by 1 November 2017, in time for the next state election in Wisconsin, in 2018. However, the Supreme Court has recently struck down district maps in states that, in its view, went too far in using race to draw district lines.

Do we want a democracy in which politicians (of any party) can virtually assure their re-election and continued dominance in a state simply because of the way that they draw the maps? That weakened African-American voting strength elsewhere in the state, the court said. "In 2014 and 2016, Republicans extended their advantage to 63 and 64 seats, respectively, even though the statewide vote remained almost tied". They also have majorities in an all-time high of 69 of 99 state legislative chambers, according to the Republican State Leadership Committee. It said redistricting efforts were unlawful partisan gerrymandering when they sought to entrench the party in power, and had no other legitimate justification. Kennedy joined in that narrow ruling by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who noted in her opinion that Kennedy previously labeled partisan gerrymanders "incompatible with democratic principles".

"So they compare that district-by-district to the statewide total, and that gives them this efficiency gap measure".

The case, Gill v. Whitford, challenges the 2011 Wisconsin state assembly map.

Supporters of Wisconsin's map say that "the election results it produced are similar to those under earlier court-drawn maps", as The Associated Press reports.

"We are hopeful that the decision to hear this case will be the first step in addressing the partisan gerrymandering that is now shaping the House of Representatives as well as state legislatures across the country".

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