Published: Tue, June 20, 2017
Science | By Boyd Webster

Supreme Court to take up partisan gerrymandering case with potential Texas implications

Supreme Court to take up partisan gerrymandering case with potential Texas implications

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.

In its 2-1 decision in November, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin said the Wisconsin plan was discriminatory in both intent and effect and could not be explained by the natural political spread of voters or a legitimate state interest.

A ruling that partisan gerrymanders are unlawful would dramatically recast the apportionment process and shuffle the balance of power in Congress and state legislatures.

"In 2004, a four-member Supreme Court plurality all but ruled out challenges to even extreme partisan gerrymanders, while four members of the court would have allowed some limited challenges".

Four justices - only Justice Clarence Thomas remains of the group - said it was not the court's business to make such decisions.

The state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the recent Wisconsin election results favoring Republicans "is a reflection of Wisconsin's natural political geography" with Democrats concentrated in urban areas like Milwaukee and Madison. University of Chicago law professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos and political scientist Eric McGhee devised one promising option, which notes that gerrymandering forces the losing party to "waste" votes by placing all its voters into a small number of districts where the party gets a landslide, rather than spreading out those voters so they can have more impact.

Justices also put on hold an earlier ruling requiring that new maps be drawn by November.

The Supreme Court is wading into the thicket of partisan redistricting in a case from Wisconsin.

With the separate order that split the court closely on Monday, the state legislature will now be spared the duty of working out a new map of election district for use in upcoming elections.

This case represents the first time in 31 years that a lower court struck down a district plan as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. We proved in federal court that Democrats and Republicans are pretty evenly clustered throughout the state and that Democrats in Wisconsin have had their rights violated. If Democrats come up just short in a lot of other districts, they're saying they wasted those votes as well.

In a statement released Monday, Wisconsin's Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel said the state's redistricting was constitutional. Meanwhile, CNN notes that while prior cases have concluded partisan gerrymandering to be illegal, none have quantified the matter in explicit terms for future benefit. In 2012, for example, Democrats could have held a 17-seat majority in the House over Republicans were it not for partisan gerrymandering, according to the Bennan Center's analysis. There's extensive case law on racial gerrymanders, which has established that racial discrimination in districting is subject to strict scrutiny by courts.

This is the first time in more than ten years that the justices will consider allegations of gerrymandering - and observers see the their final ruling as one which impact how elections are run throughout the nation. From their minority share of the vote, the Wisconsin GOP won 60 of the Assembly's 99 seats. Any method of drawing districts will favor Republicans, they contend. The plaintiffs, complaining about an egregious Republican gerrymander of the state legislature, have come up with a new test to measure when politics has over-infiltrated the redistricting process.

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