Published: Tue, June 27, 2017
Global Media | By Meredith Barber

Supreme Court Will Hear Landmark Wisconsin Partisan Gerrymandering Case

Supreme Court Will Hear Landmark Wisconsin Partisan Gerrymandering Case

In a case that could have monumental repercussions on the American political landscape, the Supreme Court announced on Wednesday that it would hear a Wisconsin gerrymandering case that could establish a standard for what constitutes unfair electoral maps.

After winning control of the state legislature in 2010, Republicans redrew the statewide electoral map and approved the redistricting plan in 2011. But those instances hinged on racial makeup of districts, whereas the Wisconsin case hinges more explicitly on partisan gerrymandering.

The case, which will be briefed and argued during the Supreme Court's next term that starts in October, could determine how far state legislatures can go in structuring maps for partisan gain.

"We find that Act 43 was meant to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters throughout the decennial period by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats", wrote Circuit Judge Kenneth Ripple in the lower district court ruling.

"Every time Texas is accused of racial gerrymandering, they come back and say, 'no, no it's a partisan gerrymandering, ' as though that's a defense", he says.

A panel of three federal judges earlier this year struck down state house district maps drawn in 2011 by Wisconsin's Republican controlled legislature, finding the resulting districts so blatantly partisan that they denied Democrats a fair shot at electing candidates of their choosing. He said his state's apportion scheme denies residents the ability to have real choice at the ballot box.

The justices will hear the case in the fall.

Overturning these districting plans would create considerable instability as state legislators in various states - and most likely lower courts, too - would be charged with taking the step of drafting new plans, and these plans would have ripple effects as would-be and actual candidates reassess their campaign strategies under altered district boundaries.

"We have now five members of the U.S House of Representatives who are Democrats and nine who are Republicans, and yet when you look at more of the voting patterns... what we can see is that, given how the vote tends to turn out, the Republicans do have, at the moment, an advantage".

What the Republicans did is called gerrymandering, a centuries-old practice of creating legislative districts that favor one party over another.

The Supreme Court accepted the case from Wisconsin, where a divided panel of three federal judges previous year ruled that the state's Republican leadership in 2011 pushed through a plan so partisan it violated the Constitution's First Amendment and equal rights protections. In 2016, a federal district court agreed with those Democratic voters, ruling that the state's election map had been drawn for partisan advantage.

It's the high court's first case on what's known as partisan gerrymandering in more than a decade, and the outcome could affect elections across the country.

Their lawsuit claimed that Republicans spread Democrats thin among some districts so that they could not achieve a majority. Any method of drawing districts would favor Republicans, it contends. In their article, it states that the difference between the wasted votes of the two parties, divided by the total number of votes, equals an efficiency gap.

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