The Supreme Court Will Hear A Major Partisan Gerrymandering Case

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide whether the U.S. Constitution limits how far lawmakers can go to redraw voting districts to favor one political party over another in a case that could have huge consequences for American elections.

The Supreme Court has increasingly overturned redrawn electoral maps because they were created to reduce the influence of racial minorities, according to the Washington Post. The court said that tendency did not entirely account for how one-sided the maps are. If the Supreme Court sides with the lower court, the out-of-power party in states across the country - whether Republican or Democrat - would have a new avenue for challenging maps.

The 2-1 decision that struck down Wisconsin's legislative map found Republicans were so partisan and so precise in their drawing of Wisconsin's legislative map in 2011 that they had silenced the voices of Democratic voters in the process.

The court said both the First Amendment and the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection prohibit redistricting plans that make it harder for members of a disfavored political party to elect their candidates and that can not be justified on legitimate grounds. In the past, the four most conservative justices (then including Antonin Scalia) have written that the courts should stay out of the issue altogether, while the four more progressive ones have disagreed.

"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", wrote Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel in a statement.

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And in the 2006 case of League of United Latin American Citizens vs. Perry, the court limited a ruling on the 2003 Texas congressional map to a single district, finding that the map had diluted Latino votes in the 23rd Congressional District.

The disputed map was drawn after Wisconsin's 2010 election produced Republican control of the state assembly, state senate, and the governor's office for the first time in more than 40 years.

In 2012, after the adoption of the new map, Republicans won 48.6 per cent of the statewide vote but captured 60 seats in the 99-seat State Assembly.

Why is the Supreme Court looking at Wisconsin?

At the center of the challenge is a new way to measure the effect of partisan gerrymandering - a formula called the efficiency gap. Although the justices have frequently invalidated district maps that disadvantage minorities, they have stopped short of striking down maps favoring one political party over the other. In the past, cases that seek to end partisan gerrymandering have failed, because the justices were unable to concur on what the standard for constitutional districting was.

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"I have long advocated for an independent commission to draw legislative districts, which is the only way to take partisanship out of the process", Kind also said.

If the Court deems partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional (this would be the first such case in Supreme Court history) the precedent could drastically alter the redistricting plans set for after 2020, a responsibility that the GOP controls in most states. In other districts, Democrats were so well represented it limited voters' ability to elect Democrats in other districts.

At the heart of redistricting controversies is the issue of when one party "packs" or "cracks" voters.

But the court has not ruled on "purely partisan gerrymanders" since 2004, as NPR's Nina Totenberg reported: "In 2004, a four-member Supreme Court plurality all but ruled out challenges to even extreme partisan gerrymanders, while four members of the court would have allowed some limited challenges".

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