Supreme Court to Review Partisan Redistricting in Wisconsin Case

Yet Democrats are more supportive of having courts rein in extreme districting plans, mainly because Republicans control more legislatures and drew districts after the 2010 census that enhanced their advantage in those states and in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Wendy Weiser from New York University's Brennan Center for Justice said in a statement Monday that "gerrymandering has become so aggressive, extreme, and effective that there is an urgent need for the Supreme Court to finally step in and set boundaries".

Justices vacated a lower court order for the General Assembly to redraw maps and hold special elections this year in the new districts, but no clear path was established.

The challengers in the Wisconsin case argued that the state's electoral map was carefully drawn so that the GOP was virtually guaranteed to control the Legislature for the entire decade.

The Supreme Court added another thorny political case to its docket next term, agreeing Monday to rule on whether Wisconsin's legislative districts are so politically loaded that they violate the Constitution.

Republican legislators redrew the state's political boundaries in 2011, in a manner that Democrats argue put Democratic voters at a disadvantage.

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Indeed, even in announcing that the Court will hear the case, the justices indicated that there is still considerable support for Scalia's approach.

A decision to uphold the ruling, on the other hand, would send courts across the United States head-first into a legal thicket, where they would be asked to glean legislative intent in district-drawing and pore over electoral maps and data to discern evidence of imbalance.

The issue has torn the court for decades.

Wisconsin Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel welcomed the justices' decision to hear the state's appeal and called the state's redistricting process "entirely lawful and constitutional".

A three-judge panel ruled the map illegal and ordered a new one drawn by later this year.

In its decision, the majority in the court panel decision wrote that the Assembly district map, which was drawn in the office of a Madison law firm that often represents Republican interests, "was meant to burden the representational rights of Democratic impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats". "The maps were in place and republicans gained seats in '12, '14, and '16", he said.

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Democratic voters sued and claimed that the legislature's action violated their First Amendment associational rights and 14th Amendment equal protection rights. The four liberals (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan) dissented.

"The stay is particularly important because it preserves the Legislature's time, effort, and resources while this case is pending".

But Wisconsin officials defended the legislature's work and called on the justices to undo the lower-court ruling.

Late past year a lower federal court, splitting 2-1, adopted a modified form of this efficiency gap test and struck down Wisconsin's map. If the high court upholds this ruling, it would establish a sweeping precedent that could lead to a wave of lawsuits against widespread partisan gerrymanders nationally.

The Supreme Court could soon decide whether the drawing of electoral districts can be too political. The resulting map maximized Republicans' political power by carving up districts so Democrats were packed into some lopsided districts, giving the GOP a better chance at winning other competitive seats. This is accomplished by either "packing" voters from these groups into districts the other party is going to win anyway, or "cracking" them into a number of different legislative districts so that they fall somewhat short of a majority in each one.

In my most recent column, I expressed concern about the effectiveness of the constitutional decision rules that now govern gerrymandering - the redrawing of electoral districts in a manner that favors the incumbent majority at the expense of those out of power.

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  • Nancy Warren