Supreme Court to consider Wisconsin gerrymandering case

The justices won't hear the arguments until the fall, but the case has already taken on a distinctly ideological, if not partisan, tone.

In May, the Supreme Court struck down two districts in North Carolina, affirming a lower court's decision that the Republican-controlled legislature drew the map to dilute the influence of African-American voters. If the Supreme Court upholds the case, then the voters of Wisconsin will be able to go to the polls and actually elect their candidates of choice, and have them represented in the state Assembly.

The Constitution mandates decennial reapportionment and redistricting of congressional and state legislative districts to reflect population shifts.

The issue of gerrymandering - creating districts that often are oddly shaped, with the aim of benefiting one party - is central to the debate.

"Both parties draw congressional and legislative districts to their own advantage", the Washington Post's Robert Barnes notes. During the 2012 election, GOP candidates in Wisconsin only won 48.6 percent of the statewide vote but captured 60 of the 99 seats in the Wisconsin State Assembly. They were trying to get an advantage, and it turns out they really did get an advantage.

"Wisconsin's gerrymander was one of the most aggressive of the decade, locking in a large and implausibly stable majority for Republicans in what is otherwise a battleground state", said Thomas Wolf, redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice.

In a subsequent ruling, the lower court panel ordered that the Legislature must have a new redistricting plan in place by November 1, 2017, for the 2018 general election. "They are trying to accomplish by delay what they couldn't prove in court". "As I have said before, our redistricting process was entirely lawful and constitutional, and the district court should be reversed".

The issue will be briefed and argued in the Supreme Court term that begins in October.

This is the second time justices have acted on gerrymandering this year.

"We've already had two federal courts declare the map unconstitutional in part or whole", said Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, which organized and launched the lawsuit on behalf of a group of Democratic voters in Wisconsin. As measured by this "efficiency gap", Republicans can increase the number of the districts they control by stuffing Democratic voters into already Democratic districts.

In two orders on Monday, the Justices agreed to hear - though not necessarily decide - a high-profile case from Wisconsin, and then nearly an hour later announced that it was blocking, by a 5-to-4 vote, a lower federal court ruling that had struck down the specific redistricting maps for the state's general assembly.

After winning control of the state legislature in 2010, Republicans redrew the statewide electoral map and approved the redistricting plan in 2011. Kenneth Ripple, the author of that opinion, wrote, "We conclude ... that the evidence establishes that one of the purposes of [the district map] was to secure Republican control of the Assembly under any likely future electoral scenario for the remainder of the decade, in other words to entrench the Republican Party in power". The practice is also rampant in state legislatures across the country. He used the vote in urban areas like Milwaukee and Madison as an example: "I don't care how you draw the maps there, they're always going to win by big margins", Walker said. Cities do it for city council districts.

Meanwhile, others have a different theory about the Wisconsin gerrymandering case's real significance...

Stephanopoulos and McGhee's formula counts the number of wasted Democratic votes that results in an election held under a particular map, and compares it to the number of wasted Republican votes.

  • Annette Adams