Last November, in the first such ruling in 30 years, partisan gerrymandering suffered a huge defeat when a district court in Wisconsin ruled that the state’s partisan redistricting plan was unconstitutional and served no legitimate government purpose.
Now, attorneys for the State of Wisconsin are challenging that ruling before the Supreme Court.
This gerrymandering battle is a big deal. In any given state, the party in power has used partisan gerrymandering to their advantage in order to help solidify their power by creating so called “safe districts” with the voters of their choice. This leads to less competitive elections, with over 90% of elections nationwide being “decided” in the primaries.
The Fair Elections Project challenged the use of gerrymandering by the Republican-controlled state legislature, just like Democrats do it in other states, arguing that partisan-gerrymandered districts violated the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The plaintiffs say this gives Republican voters an unfair advantage by essentially guaranteeing a Republican win regardless of voter turnout.
All three judges ruled against the current legislative maps, and state representatives are now challenging the decision before the Supreme Court.
This is especially significant because of the Supreme Court’s tendency to avoid getting involved in “political issues,” which highlights an important part of this case. This is the first time the courts have held that partisan gerrymandering can rise to such a level as to violate the rights of voters. To date, without guidance from the Supreme Court, lower courts had largely dismissed these types of claims, leaving voters at the mercy of partisan legislators who draw the lines.
The argument the State of Wisconsin is making on appeal is largely based on Vieth v. Jubelirer, 541 U.S. 267 (2004), a Supreme Court ruling that determined that partisan gerrymandering claims were non-justiciable because “no judicially discernible and manageable standards for adjudicating political gerrymandering claims have emerged.”
In other words, the Supreme Court couldn’t figure out a standard for deciding how partisan is too partisan. The Fair Elections Project, however, is likely to present the evidence provided in the lower court, including the novel “efficiency gap” theory, as evidence that the effect on voters is both discernible and manageable.
State attorneys largely focus their questions on whether Vieth v. Jubelirer may have been violated by the district court ruling. The attorneys further question if allowing a “statewide challenge to Wisconsin’s redistricting plan” as well as holding that “Wisconsin’s redistricting plan was an impermissible partisan gerrymander” violate previous precedent.
Whether or not the Supreme Court decides to take the case up now, it should not go unnoticed that the State of Wisconsin, and its resources, are being used to defend the partisan gerrymandering scheme which the Republican Party supports. And you can be sure the Democratic Party doesn’t want to get rid of partisan gerrymandering in the states they control.
That’s why neither major political party has an interest in taking gerrymandering all the way to the Supreme Court.
Makes you think -- without organizations like the Fair Elections Project, who is out there defending the rights of the nonpartisan voter?