Supreme Court Set to Hear Accusations of Wisconsin Gerrymandering

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Supreme Court Set to Hear Accusations of Wisconsin Gerrymandering
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20 June, 2017

Reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court's announcement Monday that it will hold oral arguments to decide whether Republican Wisconsin lawmakers drew electoral districts so out of whack with the state's political breakdown that they violated the constitutional rights of Democratic voters.

The case was initially decided in November by a panel of two U.S. District Court judges and a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, which said in a 2-1 decision that the 2011 Republican re-draw of state Assembly boundaries is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

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.

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

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.

Twelve Republican-dominated states are supporting Wisconsin in its defense of the 2011 redistricting plan. Even former President Barack Obama has vowed to fight against the practice's misuses and abuses during his post-presidency, though the Supreme Court of the United States may beat him to the punch.

The efficiency gap argument was a fundamental part of the case, and is aimed at providing Kennedy with a concrete way of distinguishing when a gerrymander is constitutional and when it isn't, said Barry Burden, a political science professor and director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin Madison. 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.

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The federal court that struck down the districts adopted an equation that offers a way to measure the partisan nature of the districts. The Republican National Committee and a dozen large Republican states have asked the court to reverse the Wisconsin decision. During the 2012 election, GOP candidates in Wisconsin only won 48.6 percent of the statewide vote but captured 60 of the 99 seats in the Wisconsin State Assembly.

The issue has torn the court for decades.

The court ordered a redrawing of political districts be in place by November 1 of this year, in time for the next state election in Wisconsin in 2018. Justice Anthony Kennedy cast the fifth and deciding vote, declaring that he might someday embrace a challenge to a partisan gerrymander if someone could come up with workable standards. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the method, which was not wholly adopted by the lower court, "counts the number of votes each party wastes in an election to determine whether either party enjoyed a systematic advantage in turning votes into seats".

"Austin and most of Travis County easily could be its own congressional district", Li said.

The measure, called the efficiency gap, shows how cracking (breaking up blocs of Democratic voters) and packing (concentrating Democrats within certain districts) results in wasted votes - excess votes for winners in safe districts and perpetually inadequate votes for the losers.

It will be the high court's first case in more than a decade on what's known as partisan gerrymandering.

Several Democratic voters joined a lawsuit contending this partisan electoral map violated their rights to an equal vote.


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