Supreme Court To Hear Major Wisconsin Gerrymandering Case

In a case that could have far-reaching consequences on the outcome of future elections, the US Supreme Court agreed on Monday to rule on whether electoral maps that are deliberately drawn to favor a certain political party, a process also known as gerrymandering, are constitutionally acceptable.

Last November, the state of Wisconsin appealed a lower court ruling that state Republican lawmakers violated the constitution when they created legislative districts that put Democrats at a disadvantage and now the Supreme Court is going to hear their case. The state’s argument was that the recent Wisconsin election results favoring Republicans “is a reflection of Wisconsin’s natural political geography” with Democrats concentrated in urban areas such as Milwaukee and Madison.

A panel of federal judges in Madison ruled 2-1 that the state’s Republican-led redrawing of legislative districts amounted to “an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander,” violating the US Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection under the law and free speech by sabotaging Democratic voters’ abilities to turn their votes into seats in Wisconsin’s legislature.

The Supreme Court has ruled state electoral maps invalid based on grounds of racial discrimination, such as it did with North Carolina on May 22, when the power of African-American voters was diminished statewide due to Republican legislators drawing two electoral districts. However, they’ve been reluctant to throw out maps that give one party a distinct advantage over the other. Until now that is.

“Wisconsin’s gerrymander was one of the most aggressive of the decade, locking in a large and implausibly stable majority for Republicans in what is otherwise a battleground state,” said redistricting expert Thomas Wolf of the Brennan Center. “It’s a symptom of politics going haywire and something that we increasingly see when one party has sole control of the redistricting process.”

If the Supreme Court finds the state of Wisconsin at fault, it could affect congressional maps in about half a dozen states and legislative maps in about 10 states in the short term, but the long term effects are still unknown. State and federal legislative district boundaries are redrawn every decade to hold roughly the same number of people after each census, the next being in 2020.

The original court ruling that the state is appealing ordered the redrawing of legislative boundaries to be in place by November 1, in time for the 2018 Wisconsin state election.

Featured image via Alex Wong/Getty Images