Kansas Supreme Court sets deadlines for arguments on school finance law

The Supreme Court declared Monday that it will consider whether gerrymandered election maps favoring one political party over another violate the Constitution, a potentially fundamental change in the way American elections are conducted.

"I am thrilled the supreme court has granted our request to review the redistricting decision and that Wisconsin will have an opportunity to defend its redistricting process", said Wisconsin attorney general Brad Schimel, a Republican, adding that the state's redistricting process was lawful and constitutional.

The voters who are challenging the plan, led by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, argue that the map allowed Wisconsin's state Assembly to not resemble the electorate in a closely divided swing state that has supported presidential candidates from both parties and now has one Democrat and one Republican representing it in the U.S. Senate. The court should take this opportunity to end this practice.

Also Monday, justices voted 5-4 to stay a lower court ruling that had required the Republican-controlled legislature to redraw Assembly and Senate districts by November - a victory for Republicans, because it means the current maps, under which the GOP won seats in 2012, 2014 and 2016 could stay in place through the 2018 elections.

A panel of three federal judges in Madison ruled 2-1 that the way the Republicans redrew the districts violated the U.S. Constitution's guarantees of equal protection under the law and free speech by undercutting the ability of Democratic voters to turn their votes into seats in Wisconsin's legislature. Judge Kenneth F. Ripple of the three-judge Federal District Court stated that the lines were "designed to make it more hard for Democrats, compared to Republicans, to translate their votes into seats". In the process, the Supreme Court will decide the rules every other state has to follow too.

Overturning these districting plans would create considerable instability as state legislators in various states - and most likely lower courts, too - would be charged with taking the step of drafting new plans, and these plans would have ripple effects as would-be and actual candidates reassess their campaign strategies under altered district boundaries. In fact, part of Texas' argument claims redistricting was indeed based on partisanship - something courts have allowed in the past.

Democratic state Assembly leader Peter Barca says "Voters should be able to choose their representatives, not the other way around". In addition, the case is getting attention because in recent years the court has considered racial inequities in political maps - but not the issue of how much partisan gerrymandering is reasonable.

Meanwhile, the dozen plaintiffs - voters across the state - said the evidence laid out at the trial in the case showed that "Republican legislative leaders authorised a secretive and exclusionary mapmaking process aimed at securing for their party a large advantage that would persist no matter what happened in future elections".

Michael B. Kimberly, the lawyer bringing the suit, said he had been watching the Wisconsin case.

The state and the school districts will have until Friday, June 30, to submit briefs.

Twelve Republican-dominated states are supporting Wisconsin in its defense of the 2011 redistricting plan.

Has the Supreme Court decided gerrymandering cases in the past?

But the court in that case didn't find such a violation and has never agreed on a clear standard for invalidating partisan gerrymanders.

  • Larry Hoffman