Supreme Court to tackle major gerrymandering case

The Supreme Court split 5-4 on Monday in ordering that work to be halted while the high court considers the Wisconsin case. It was a redistricting year, and lawmakers promptly drew a map for the State Assembly that helped Republicans convert very close statewide vote totals into lopsided legislative majorities. In 2014, Republicans won 52 percent of the vote and increased their state assembly majority to 63 seats.

The stay prevents implementation of a ruling by a three-judge panel, which would have required the Wisconsin Legislature to redraw district maps in time for the 2018 elections.

Last November, federal judges in Madison ruled 2-1 that the Republican-led Wisconsin legislature's redrawing of legislative districts in 2011 amounted to "an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander", a manipulation of electoral boundaries for unfair political advantage. "Partisan gerrymandering has distorted our political system and disenfranchised voters for far too long".

Schimel appealed a November 2016 ruling by a federal three-judge panel in the US 7th Circuit District Court that found Wisconsin's current State Assembly map to be unconstitutional on a 2-1 decision.

In the drawing of the 2016 congressional districts, Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Harnett County who has been chairman of the redistricting committee, made a statement that has been cited in lawsuits related to partisan gerrymandering claims.

In most states, the redistricting process is controlled by the state legislature and the governor, which is why state elections at the beginning of each decade are so important.

But the Supreme Court has never found a plan unconstitutional because of partisan gerrymandering.

This case provides the Court with the opportunity to rule in favor of free and fair elections. Much has already been analyzed about the Wisconsin cases that will be reviewed in next year's term of the Supreme Court, but the Old North State is certainly one that will be watching the developments. The court, however, said the state's natural political geography "does not explain adequately the sizeable disparate effect" seen in the previous two election cycles. Kennedy, writing in a 2004 case, indicated he may be open to the idea that racial gerrymanders could violate the Constitution.

The cleanest answer for the nine justices would be to reverse the lower court decision striking down Wisconsin's legislative districts as too partisan. One such standard - dubbed the "efficiency gap" - counts the number of "wasted" votes for winning candidates in districts purposely packed with the opposition party's voters, as well as for losing candidates in districts where those voters were purposely scattered.

A decision to uphold the ruling, on the other hand, would send courts across the U.S. 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 Supreme Court has viewed political gerrymandering as distasteful but not illegal.

Under the Wisconsin redistricting plan, Republicans were able to amplify their voting power, gaining more seats than their percentage of the statewide vote would suggest.

  • Larry Hoffman