Three reasons to (cautiously) celebrate Supreme Court on gerrymandering

Three reasons to (cautiously) celebrate Supreme Court on gerrymandering

Kerry Wise
June 23, 2018

Second, the majority - over two Justices' dissents - did not dismiss the Wisconsin case outright even though it ruled that the individual voters had not made their case.

It was the first time any federal court had found a congressional map to be unconstitutionally partisan.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote Monday that the Democratic challengers lacked legal "standing" because they had not demonstrated individual harm within their legislative districts. Whitford, the justices held unanimously that the plaintiffs had failed to show that their individual votes had been impaired.

The Supreme Court has ruled on multiple occasions that race can not be a major factor in the way lines are drawn, but it has yet to set a standard for how much politics is too much. But on Tuesday the justices essentially set both cases aside for procedural reasons, with only the plaintiffs in Wisconsin afforded the opportunity to try again. Lawmakers in the Wisconsin Capitol need to be accountable to voters and support legislation that will take the power of map drawing out of partisan control and give it to an independent body, with plenty of public input, in the interest of fairness and democracy.

"In considering the balance of equities among the parties, we think that plaintiffs' unnecessary, yearslong delay in asking for preliminary injunctive relief weighed against their request", the opinion said.

District lines can still be changed in time for the 2020 elections if the Supreme Court takes up the issue next term.

Dale Ho, who heads the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, said the court missed an opportunity "to lay down a firm marker as to when partisan gerrymandering is so extreme that it violates the constitutional rights of voters", though it permitted lawsuits against unfair maps to continue. In 2004, the court upheld the practice of gerrymandering in a case concerning Pennsylvania's map, finding that the practice of gerrymandering was outside the court's purview and "nonjusticiable".

The case: A federal lawsuit filed in December by Democratic voters alleges the U.S. House and state legislative districts enacted in 2011 by a Republican governor and Republican-led Legislature are unconstitutionally gerrymandered to dilute the voting power of Democrats.

In Wisconsin, the Supreme Court said the plaintiffs in the case didn't have enough standing to challenge the statewide assembly maps. In the election that followed their remap, Republicans won 60 seats in Wisconsin's 99-seat assembly despite winning just 48.6 percent of the statewide vote.

"Partisan gerrymandering no doubt burdens individual votes, but it also causes other harms", Justice Elena Kagan wrote.

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We know everything else comes on the back of that. "Sometimes going into a big tournament is about not losing and being passive". For instance, at a recently media day, all 23 players in the World Cup squad were available for journalists to speak to freely.

At the Supreme Court, the fate of partisan gerrymandering likely depends on Justice Anthony Kennedy. To make the broader argument, the Wisconsin challenge relied on a metric known as the Efficiency Gap.

There is one other question worth considering: Is gerrymandering a problem the courts should solve?

Representative Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, said a nonpartisan method of drawing district maps is essential to ensure fair elections. "The 2010 redistricting cycle produced some of the worst partisan gerrymanders on record". The formula attempts to highlight partisan imbalance among all the districts in a state, with the underlying assumption being that districts should be as competitive as possible to reduce the number of "wasted" votes. The majority of the Court rejected the more extreme views of Justices Thomas and Gorsuch, and the vast majority of justices appear to make clear that they are open to finding extreme partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional. That means redrawn maps remain in effect for this November's election. The court has not been successful in developing a test concerning the overreliance on politics.

"The Constitution doesn't say anything explicit about gerrymandering of any kind", he says.

The challengers' counsel, Paul Smith of the Campaign Legal Center, told the justices that "these claims are coming" and "You are the only institution that can solve this". State Senate: 35 Republicans, 15 Democrats.

The Maryland case differed from the Wisconsin case in several ways.

The cases were closely watched around the country, including in OH, where the state's Republican-controlled state government implemented a similarly partisan remap when it redrew congressional district lines in 2011.

First, the challengers hadn't sought an injunction until six years after the 2011 map was adopted.

In throwing the case back to the lower courts, the high court sidestepped the larger issue: endorsing a workable standard going forward that would apply nationwide.