Supreme Court To Hear Arguments On Partisan Redistricting

Marco Green
October 3, 2017

The high court has not ordered that Wisconsin's voting boundaries be re-drawn while the case is pending.

Do we want a democracy in which politicians (of any party) can virtually assure their re-election and continued dominance in a state simply because of the way that they draw the maps? In the 2012 election, Republicans won 48.6 percent of the statewide vote yet claimed 60 of 99 seats in the Assembly.

If the Supreme Court were to rule that Wisconsin crossed a constitutional line, the ruling could call into question dozens of districts around the country.

It's as American as baseball or apple pie - but the days when an incumbent party could redraw voting districts to disadvantage their opponents could soon be numbered, thanks to the tireless efforts of a retired Midwestern law professor.

Voter ID laws, campaign finance rules, and redistricting maps are all suspect when the primary motivation for them is to stay in power. As it now stands, the groups who control the map-drawing process can help to sustain their dominance and engineer the political agenda.

A recent study from the Brennan Center found that gerrymandering has resulted in 16 or 17 additional Republican seats in Congress, or about two-thirds of the 24 seats Democrats would need to take over the House.

Throughout U.S. history, Republicans and Democrats have used the redistricting process to boost their political clout when they had the opportunity.

The case, one of the biggest of the court's term that began on Monday and runs through June, gives the justices a chance to establish the first standards to judge when maps of state legislative districts drawn to benefit one particular party violate the Constitution.

The court's regular swing vote, Anthony Kennedy, could decide the case's outcome.

Wisconsin in response says redistricting has always been a political process, and lawmakers expressly have the power to draw district lines. Supreme Court justices have agreed in theory that extreme political gerrymanders are incompatible with democratic principles.

One of them, Judge Kenneth Ripple of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, wrote the Madison decision invalidating the Wisconsin maps.

The state is arguing the justices should put an end to courts' consideration of partisanship in districting plans and cautioning that far from being manageable, a ruling for the Democratic voters would open the door to a flood of lawsuits that would be based on cherry-picked evidence and hard for judges to manage.

Republicans contend that courts have no business in decisions that should be left to the political branches of government.

Because Republicans control more state legislatures after their nationwide gains in 2010, they now have more to lose if the high court adopts first-ever partisan limits on redistricting. The Supreme Court will now consider that decision.

The ruling was unusual because while courts have invalidated maps created to exploit racial advantages, they have generally left alone gerrymanders designed for partisan advantage.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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