Gerrymandering: Drawing districts for political advantage

Gerrymandering: Drawing districts for political advantage

The legislature adopted new district boundaries in time for the 2012 election, when Republicans won 60 of the Wisconsin State Assembly's 99 seats, despite the fact that, in aggregate, more people voted for Democratic Assembly candidates statewide.

In the past the Supreme Court has ordered voting districts to be redrawn based on racial gerrymanders but has not had to deal with such severe partisan gerrymandering as the Wisconsin case claims.

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". Cracking, or spreading, Democratic voters across districts in which Republicans have small majorities wastes all of the Democratic votes when the Republican candidate wins.

Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine, says when the Supreme Court last tackled partisan gerrymandering in 2004, the justices could not agree on a test to evaluate the issue.

"There is no question", said the 2-1 ruling, that the map drawn by Wisconsin's legislature "was created to make it more hard for Democrats, compared to Republicans, to translate their votes into seats".

"They don't look freaky", William Whitford, one of the Democratic plaintiffs suing over the Wisconsin map, said Monday on a conference call with reporters.

In a statement released Monday, Wisconsin's Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel said the state's redistricting was constitutional.

Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, which organized and launched the lawsuit: "We've already had two federal courts declare the map unconstitutional in part or whole".

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Chief Justice John Roberts (second from right) and Justice Neil Gorsuch (center) walk down the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., last week. It said redistricting efforts are unlawful partisan gerrymandering when they seek to entrench the party in power, and have no other legitimate justification. While these districts have allowed minorities to pick their representatives, they have had the unintended outcome of limiting minority influence in other districts by packing them into one.

Court observers say Justice Anthony Kennedy is the one to watch.

The Supreme Court will likely hear the case in November or December 2017, and a ruling will be made by June 2018.

The next changes are due after the 2020 census, giving the Supreme Court ruling a potentially significant impact on how re-districting is carried out.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal from the state of Wisconsin on Monday that would weigh in on a lower court decision that found the state's Republican-drawn 2011 redistricting plan was both partisan against Democrats and unconstitutional.

"This will be the biggest and most important election law case in decades".

As I've explained before, this is the case where the plaintiffs are arguing that there is an objective way to measure whether a given electoral map was designed for partisan purposes. And "that work is proceeding".

The court has said that too much partisanship in map drawing is illegal, but it has never said how much is too much. In Wisconsin, the Republicans were in charge so they tried to pack as many Democrats as they could into the fewest number of districts.

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