Voting Rights At Stake in Partisan Gerrymandering Case

Update October 3, 2017: The full transcript has been released for the oral argument in Gill v. Whitford. Check out the transcript below.


The Supreme Court heard oral argument Tuesday in Gill v. Whitford, a case out of Wisconsin that challenges the state’s gerrymandered legislative districts.

Gill v. Whitford is significant because it is the first case that a federal court ruled electoral maps unconstitutional not on the basis of race or class discrimination, but political discrimination. The district court ruled 2-1 that the mapmaking was so partisan that it violated the rights of voters outside the Republican Party, which controls the Wisconsin legislature.

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The case is now before the Supreme Court, and it is reported that the justices appear divided on the issue. Reuters reports that the conservative justices questioned whether or not appellants — consisting of Democratic voters — actually had standing.

Chief Justice John Roberts also questioned the role the court should play in ruling on these maps.

“We will have to decide in every case whether the Democrats or the Republicans win. The intelligent man on the street is going to say, ‘That’s a bunch of baloney,’” Roberts said.

What incentive is there for a voter to exercise his vote? What becomes of the precious right to vote?
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The Supreme Court has historically been reluctant to rule that an electoral map violated the constitution based on political factors outside race or class discrimination. In Vieth v. Jubelirer (2004), the high court ruled that there was no measurable or judicial standard to determine what constitutes “too partisan.”

However, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg raised the issue of voting rights, and the impact extreme partisan gerrymandering could continue to have on the electoral process and voters’ desire to participate in a process they think is rigged from the start.

“What incentive is there for a voter to exercise his vote? What becomes of the precious right to vote?” Ginsburg asked.

Read a full analysis of the SCOTUS hearing here.

It is important to note that partisan gerrymandering is not solely a Republican issue. While it is often portrayed as a scheme by the GOP, Democrats are just as guilty. Congressional maps in Maryland or Illinois, for instance, are just as partisan as the legislative maps in Wisconsin.

It is a two-party scheme to maintain power and protect incumbents.

In this case, it is not just Democratic voters that are affected. It is every voter outside the party in control of the legislature, in an effort by lawmakers to pick their voters instead of the other way around.

However, using newer measurable standards, Gill v. Whitford could begin to change all of that, and change Supreme Court precedent forever. Stay tuned for additional coverage of this case on IVN.

Read the full transcript: