Courts & the Law, News

U.S. Supreme Court agrees to take on partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin case that could set standards across country

The U.S. Supreme Court announced today that it would hear a partisan gerrymandering case out of Wisconsin that has the potential to affect about one-third of the maps drawn for Congress and state legislatures across the country.

It’s a case North Carolinians are keeping a close eye on, since a similar court battle is brewing here.

Gill v. Whitford is an appeal of a lower court’s order for the Wisconsin Legislature to redraw the state assembly map that the court struck down as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander by November 1.

A good description of the case can be found on the Brennan Center for Justice website:

Last November, the panel declared that the state house plan adopted by Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature in 2011 was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander that violated both the Equal Protection Clause and the plaintiffs’ First Amendment freedom of association. The ruling was the first time in over three decades that a federal court invalidated a redistricting plan for partisan bias.

After evaluating the constitutionality of the map with a three-part test, the panel concluded that the map displayed both bad intent and bad effect, citing evidence that the map drawers used special partisan measurements to ensure that the map maximized Republican advantages in assembly seats. Despite Democrats winning a majority of the statewide Assembly vote in 2012 and 2014, Republicans won sixty of the ninety-nine Assembly seats. Wisconsin Republicans dispute the assertion that they intentionally engineered a biased map, arguing that partisan skews in the map reflect a natural geographic advantage they have in redistricting as a result of Democrats clustering in cities while Republicans are spread out more evenly throughout the state. The court, however, said the state’s natural political geography “does not explain adequately the sizeable disparate effect” seen in the previous two election cycles.

The panel, however, denied one of the plaintiffs’ principal requests: to have judges, not lawmakers and the governor, in charge of redrawing the legislative boundaries, stating in its opinion, “it is neither necessary nor appropriate for us to embroil the Court in the Wisconsin Legislature’s deliberations.” The court advised the panel to use the November ruling as a guide in developing a new redistricting plan.

It is likely that the North Carolina partisan gerrymandering case at the U.S. Supreme Court, Harris v. Cooper, won’t be decided until the Wisconsin case is decided.

What is expected to come from the landmark case is a standard that will determine the extent to which lawmakers across the country can consider voters’ political affiliations when drawing district maps.

The court has already, recently struck down racial gerrymandering in North Carolina, where lawmakers are required to draw new maps before holding another election.

You can read more about the major pending partisan gerrymandering cases in North Carolina, Maryland and Wisconsin here. A federal trial in League of Women Voters v. Rucho is set to begin June 26 in Greensboro.

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