Published: Mon, June 19, 2017
U.S. | By Eddie Scott

Supreme Court to hear Wisconsin gerrymander case

Supreme Court to hear Wisconsin gerrymander case

Wisconsin's Republican party won 48.6 percent of the vote in the first election following the release of Wisconsin's current maps.

A dispute over Wisconsin's Republican-drawn boundaries for the state legislature offers Democrats some hope of cutting into GOP electoral majorities across the United States.

That's because the SCOTUS has agreed to hear a case out of Wisconsin concerning the partisan nature of gerrymandering, and whether or not this renders the practice unconstitutional. "As I have said before, our redistricting process was entirely lawful and constitutional, and the district court should be reversed".

Both parties have sought the largest partisan edge when they control redistricting.

The ruling by the Supreme Court could clarify the point at which a state crosses from redrawing maps to favor the party in power, to actual violation of the Constitution.

The court accepted a case from Wisconsin, where a divided panel of three federal judges last year ruled last year that the state's Republican leadership in 2011 pushed through a plan so partisan that it violated the Constitution's First Amendment and equal rights protections.

The case, which will be heard in the fall, could have a pronounced impact on how district lines, generally redrawn after a decennial census, can be drawn across the country.

"The Supreme Court has the opportunity to ensure the maps in Wisconsin are drawn fairly, and further, has the opportunity to create ground rules that safeguard every citizen's right to freely choose their representatives", added Smith, who will argue the case before the justices.

Critics of gerrymandered districts say they undermine democracy, leaving voters with little influence over who represents them.

The Supreme Court has been reluctant to tackle partisan gerrymandering and sort through arguments about whether an electoral system is rigged or, instead, a party's political advantage is due to changing attitudes and demographics.

A three-judge court struck down Wisconsin's legislative districts in November and ordered new maps drawn in time for the 2018 elections.

Rep. Peter Barca, Wisconsin state Assembly Democratic minority leader: "Voters should be able to choose their representatives, not the other way around, and I have faith that the Supreme Court will do the right thing to help end the bad polarization we see in both Wisconsin and across America". Some justices believe courts have no role to play in a matter best left to elected officials. Four others - only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer remain - said such challenges could be heard by the court but disagreed on the method.

The case in the short term could affect congressional maps in about half a dozen states and legislative maps in about 10 states, before having major implications for the post-2020 redistricting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

While it has regularly invalidated maps for improper racial gerrymandering, the Supreme Court, as noted above, has never struck down a map for excessive partisanship despite 31 years of precedent that partisan gerrymandering could theoretically be unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court justices could also be pondering arguments over questions of political gerrymandering in North Carolina.

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