Supreme Court's ruling on Wisconsin mapmaking case could impact gerrymandering across US


The Supreme Court added another thorny political case to its docket next term, agreeing Monday to rule on whether Wisconsin's legislative districts are so politically loaded that they violate the Constitution. The court will examine a case from Wisconsin, in which a group of voters from across the state contend Republican state legislatures acted unconstitutionally in drawing the map to benefit their party.

If the Court deems partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional (this would be the first such case in Supreme Court history) the precedent could drastically alter the redistricting plans set for after 2020, a responsibility that the GOP controls in most states. Yet Democrats are more supportive of having courts rein in extreme districting plans, mainly because Republicans control more legislatures and drew districts after the 2010 census that enhanced their advantage in those states and in the House of Representatives. As Daily Kos notes, the Wisconsin GOP took a sweeping majority in the Assembly in 2012 even though Obama carried the state by seven points and more total votes went to Democratic candidates for state-lawmaker offices that Republicans.

The stay prevents implementation of a ruling by a three-judge panel, which would have required the Wisconsin Legislature to redraw district maps in time for the 2018 elections. Just 90 minutes after justices announced Monday that they would hear the case, the five more conservative justices voted to halt a lower court's order to redraw the state's legislative districts by November, in time for next year's elections. Depending on the ruling, up to seven states' congressional maps could be affected - including Texas, according to Michael Li, redistricting and voting counsel at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice.

The "wasted votes" is regarding the simple majority of 50.1 percent required to win a race. The lower court ruled that the Republican-led legislature's redrawing of state legislative districts in 2011 amounted to "an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander".

Gerrymandering is the practice of one party packing as many voters of the other party into the fewest districts possible.

Smith said a victory for the plaintiffs would "be to really affect the way the legislators in all of the states draw their maps next time in 2021 because they will know there's a much-enhanced risk of the map being thrown out and they would much more likely try to minimize the degree of bias in the maps".

He said the compactness of a district - and how squiggly or rectangular it was - was rarely a good indication of how gerrymandered it is. Aside from this order postponing jurisdiction, the court opted not to take up any other cases this morning. In a 2004 case on the same topic, Justice Anthony Kennedy, as the deciding vote, refused to strike down the map in question on the basis that it represented an unfair partisan gerrymander.

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".