Supreme Court to Consider Case on Partisan Gerrymandering

Supreme Court to consider Wisconsin gerrymandering case

The case addresses the practice of so-called partisan gerrymandering, drawing legislative boundaries to favor one party over another. Democrats do the same, but control fewer states.

And that's why court challenges to partisan gerrymandering are so important.

The process, set up through a 2008 ballot measure and refined in 2010, creates a 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission made up of five Democrats, five Republicans and four people who don't belong to either party. In 2014 and 2016, Republicans extended their statehouse advantage to 63 and then 64 seats even though the statewide vote remained almost tied.

Where did the term "gerrymandering" originate?

It's settled law that you can't gerrymander on racial grounds.

States redraw districts for House seats in Congress and for legislative districts in state legislatures. While these districts have allowed minorities to pick their representatives, they have had the unintended outcome of limiting minority influence in other districts by packing them into one.

The Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether a lower court was correct in its finding that a Republican-led redistricting in Wisconsin was unconstitutional.

Which party now benefits the most from gerrymandering? In part, it seeks to tally the number of "wasted votes" in districts that would give an advantage to one party: for example, packing Democrats into one district where a Democrat is elected in a landslide while Republicans in nearby districts win by narrow margins.

Meanwhile, the dozen plaintiffs - voters across the state - said the evidence laid out at the trial in the case showed that "Republican legislative leaders authorised a secretive and exclusionary mapmaking process aimed at securing for their party a large advantage that would persist no matter what happened in future elections". The ruling was the first time in over three decades that a federal court invalidated a redistricting plan for partisan bias.

In May, the court struck down to North Carolina congressional districts that it said were based too heavily on race, and that Republicans who controlled the state legislature and governor's office placed too many African-Americans in the two districts.

Democrats challenged the map as a partisan gerrymander violating the Constitution.

Why is the Supreme Court looking at Wisconsin?

The state is one of several battlegrounds where Republicans and Democrats fought to a virtual draw in last year's presidential election, but where Republicans enjoy election districts that have given them a almost 2-to-1 advantage in the state Assembly.

Vladeck added that the Supreme Court's ruling on Gill v. Whitford "will affect elections for years to come". After the census, they redrew the state's voting districts, and in 2012, despite winning less than 50 percent of the vote, Republicans captured 60 of the legislature's 99 seats.

What effect may this case have?

In Virginia, elections would nearly certainly become more competitive if the court decides that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, Farnsworth said.

"Although a majority of the court has suggested that states can violate the Constitution if they draw legislative districts primarily to benefit one political party, the justices have never been able to identify the specific point at which states cross the constitutional line", he said.

Meanwhile, others have a different theory about the Wisconsin gerrymandering case's real significance...

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