US Supreme Court will hear Wisconsin legislative redistricting

The Supreme Court will take up a fight over parties manipulating electoral districts to gain partisan advantage in a case that could affect the balance between Democrats and Republicans in many states. If decided correctly, this case could be absolutely crucial to restoring a level playing field, especially in state legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Supreme Court said Monday it will hear a closely watched challenge to partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin and decide whether it is unconstitutional for party leaders to entrench themselves in power with carefully drawn electoral maps. Such a change could come at the expense of Republicans, who control the process in the majority of states.

Several election lawyers said it was unclear how far-reaching a Supreme Court ruling in the Wisconsin case might be, given that other election maps are being challenged at federal and state levels using different legal arguments.

About an hour after the Court issued its order agreeing to hear this case, it issued a second order, on a 5-4 vote, granting a stay of the lower court order in this case.

In that case, Kennedy voted to uphold disputed congressional districts in Pennsylvania, saying the challengers hadn't provided a workable standard for determining whether partisanship played too big a role.

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".

"We're optimistic that the court will at last recognize that there is a point at which a partisan gerrymander goes too far", Mr. Geffen said in a phone interview. That has left those in power - sometimes Republicans and sometimes Democrats - free to redraw lines to their own advantage.

The team working on behalf of the Democratic voters contends that it has found a way to measure unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders created to give a "large and durable" advantage in elections to pone party - a measure that the Supreme Court has said was lacking in previous cases contending a partisan gerrymander. They also have majorities in an all-time high of 69 of 99 state legislative chambers, according to the Republican State Leadership Committee. The maps can all but ensure that the party in power at the beginning of a decade - when districts are drawn - will keep control of a state legislature and win most of a state's seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Supreme Court will likely be divided evenly about the decision, with Justice Kennedy as the wild card who could lean one way or the other.

"As I have said before, our redistricting process was entirely lawful and constitutional, and the district court should be reversed", Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said. He can speak about the potential impact of a possible Supreme Court ruling on redistricting rules nationwide. In packed districts, the efficiency gap considers all of the votes over 50 percent-that is beyond those needed to get a candidate elected-to be superfluous, or "wasted"; and in cracked districts, all votes for the losing party are deemed wasted.

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

  • Leroy Wright