Supreme Court Rulings Leave Partisan Gerrymandering Question Open

Protesters rally against partisan gerrymandering before the Supreme Court last

Protesters rally against partisan gerrymandering before the Supreme Court last

The Wisconsin redistricting litigation will continue as the U.S. Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that plaintiff Democratic voters who challenged Wisconsin's Republican-drawn voter district maps in 2011 lacked standing to bring the lawsuit.

(Undated) - The U.S. Supreme Court was expected to make a defining decision on extreme partisan gerrymandering this term. But in its opinion, the court said that individuals do not have standing to sue to invalidate statewide maps since each voter is directly affected only by the specific district in which she or he lives. Like the example above, Democrats could do nearly anything they wanted - the negative reaction to Obamacare in 2010 would have left Democrats with full control of Congress to continue with the agenda.

The Wisconsin case relied on a mathematical equation, the efficiency gap, that reformers and court watchers alike were eager to see assessed by the court. "The record evidence of constitutional injury presented in our case is overwhelming - legislators intentionally cracked and packed millions of North Carolina voters to silence their political voice".

"This Court is not responsible for vindicating generalized partisan preferences", Roberts said in his opinion.

And Chief Justice John Roberts said that the plaintiffs in Wisconsin had not shown they were hurt individually by the legislature's actions, a necessary component for courts to intervene. But the Supreme Court opted not to address the tougher question concerning the constitutionality of gerrymandering for political gain, instead sending the matter back to the district court in Maryland to rule on it. The plaintiffs in the Maryland case had simply waited too long to seek an injunction.

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"The District Court's decision denying a preliminary injunction can not be regarded as an abuse of discretion", the court concluded. The justices cited, for example, the challengers' delay in seeking an injunction, the closeness to the next election and the tight time constraints facing the district court.

In response, Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, responded, "The Supreme Court missed an opportunity today to lay down a firm marker as to when partisan gerrymandering is so extreme that it violates the constitutional rights of voters".

The lower court had declined to take that step, disagreeing with Republicans that using the Democratic-drawn map would result in "a manifest and irreparable injury".

Gill involves one of the most aggressive gerrymanders in the country, a Republican gerrymander that renders the Wisconsin state assembly virtually immune from democracy.

The Supreme Court's rejection of Democrats' challenge to districts they say were rigged on a partisan basis by Wisconsin Republicans came on a 9-0 vote, but dueling opinions revealed internal conflicts and portend difficulty ahead for any future gerrymandering claim. In 2012, the first election with the new map in place, Republicans won 60 of 99 Assembly seats with just 48.6 percent of the statewide vote. And Democrats flipped two State Senate seats this year - Wisconsin's 10th Senate District and Wisconsin's 1st Senate District. In legal briefs, the plaintiffs charged that Democratic state officials diluted the votes of Bartlett's constituents "because of their past support for Republican candidates for public office, violating the First Amendment retaliation doctrine".

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But for those who oppose partisan gerrymandering, there are three reasons to celebrate - if only partially - the Court's decisions. A three-judge court threw out the map, saying the lawmakers who drew it were "motivated by invidious partisan intent". These attempts to change the rules of redistricting are just another round of the same game. A separate federal lawsuit filed in April 2017 alleges that two state House districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered by the Republican-led Legislature in 2015 to increase the percentage of white voters and decrease the percentage of black voters.

Representative Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, said a nonpartisan method of drawing district maps is essential to ensure fair elections. It was nonetheless a blow to opponents of partisan gerrymandering.

Roberts and Kagan appeared to recognize that a future decision could hinge on Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court's swing vote, who has been considering retirement.

Act I opened the first week in October when the nine justices heard arguments in the Wisconsin Republican gerrymander, a design that delivered almost two-thirds of the districts to the GOP even as Republicans lost the statewide vote. The court dismissed a challenge to the new maps last October.

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