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Justices take on fight over partisan electoral maps

20 Juin 2017

He's reportedly taking a more active role with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which advocates for redistricting reform amid what many view as lopsidedly partisan legislative maps.

About an hour after the Court issued its order agreeing to hear this case, it issued a second order, on a 5-4 vote, granting a stay of the lower court order in this case.

"Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has taken on the landmark partisan gerrymandering case in Wisconsin, the highest court in America could establish clear constitutional limits on partisan map drawing that could have applicability to IL and other states", said Brad McMillan, the group's vice chair.

The Supreme Court recently found North Carolina's 1st and 12th Congressional Districts and numerous state's legislative districts to be racial gerrymanders.

The district court judges ruled the current maps favor Republican candidates to the point where twelve Democratic plaintiffs who filed a 2015 lawsuit are being deprived of their constitutional rights by having to cast "wasted ballots". The map, Judge Kenneth F. Ripple wrote for the majority, "was created to make it more hard for Democrats, compared to Republicans, to translate their votes into seats". Republicans are the most frequent beneficiaries, largely because their success around the country in the 2010 elections let them draw numerous current maps.

Venturing into what one justice recently called the "always unsavory" process of drawing election districts for partisan advantage, the court will try to set a standard - something it has failed to do in the past. "However the Court rules will affect elections for years to come", Josh Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law who specializes in election law and voting rights, told CNN.

There also are questions, in this particular case, on whether a court may hear a challenge to a redistricting plan based upon a claim of partisan gerrymandering if the challenge is statewide, and not district-by-district, and on whether the state's Republican leaders had been denied any chance to defend their plan under the formula that the lower court had only disclosed in announcing its final decision. If they find that the "efficiency gap" model presents courts with a "judicially discernible and manageable standard", then it will be a major step in moderating one of the most pernicious threats our democracy faces.

U.S. district maps for state and federal elections are drawn up every 10 years following a census. Moreover, because of a quirk of federal law, the case is overwhelmingly likely to wind up in the Supreme Court.

Attorneys for Wisconsin voters applauded Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court took up their challenge to partisan gerrymandering.

"If the Supreme Court actually decides to rein in partisan gerrymandering, I think it would have the effect of helping Democrats in the short term, because there are more legislatures that are controlled by Republicans", Hasen said.

The lower court found that redistricting efforts are unlawful partisan gerrymandering when they seek to entrench the party in power, and have no other legitimate justification. The case, which will be heard in the fall, could have a pronounced impact on how district lines, generally redrawn after a decennial census, can be drawn across the country.

The team working on behalf of the Democratic voters contends that it has found a way to measure unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders created to give a "large and durable" advantage in elections to one party - a measure that the Supreme Court has said was lacking in previous cases contending a partisan gerrymander. And "that work is proceeding".

While the Supreme Court has written critically of partisan gerrymandering in the past, it has never struck down a gerrymander on partisan grounds and has yet to establish a standard to determine when it is permissible to do so.

Democrats maintain that the GOP has used its control of state legislatures to give Republicans an unfair grip on power in the House of Representatives.

The state argues recent election results favoring Republicans were "a reflection of Wisconsin's natural political geography", with Democrats concentrated in urban areas like Milwaukee and Madison.

Justices take on fight over partisan electoral maps