The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal from the state of Wisconsin on Monday that would weigh in on a lower court decision that found the state's Republican-drawn 2011 redistricting plan was both partisan against Democrats and unconstitutional.
It's the high court's first case on what's known as partisan gerrymandering in more than a decade.
The lower court ruled that the Republican-led legislature's redrawing of state legislative districts in 2011 amounted to "an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander", a term meaning manipulating electoral boundaries for an unfair political advantage. And "that work is proceeding".
The case started when Republicans gained complete control of Wisconsin's government in 2010 for the first time in more than 40 years.
"Texas is one of the states that has high partisan bias on its congressional map, mainly because it has not created enough Latino opportunity districts, and that has both a racial impact and a partisan impact", Li said. On Monday, it was clear that these Justices favored that action, although the order did not name them explicitly; Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Anthony M. Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas. The law requires districts have roughly the same population, and while the geographic shape of the district can run the gamut, it must be contiguous.
Republicans who control the state legislature assured the court that they could draw new maps in time for the 2018 elections, if the court strikes down the districts.
Do we want a democracy in which politicians (of any party) can virtually assure their re-election and continued dominance in a state simply because of the way that they draw the maps?
"It's going to be breaking new ground", she said. "It's time for the legislature to stop with the false talking points, and focus on ensuring every Wisconsin citizen has their rights protected by drawing new maps now". They say the federal court overstepped its bounds and judges should stay out of an inherently political exercise. The Supreme Court has been split in the past on whether or not these primarily political decisions are best left to elected officials. Others say courts should step in.
In a subsequent ruling, the lower court ordered that the Legislature must have a new redistricting plan in place by November 1, 2017, for the 2018 general election. It said redistricting efforts were unlawful partisan gerrymandering when they sought to entrench the party in power, and had no other legitimate justification. "The court has never had a clear approach to partisan gerrymandering once it made a decision to start hearing these cases at all".
Common Cause and the League of Women Voters have filed separate lawsuits challenging the new maps as partisan gerrymanders, using some of the same legal arguments threaded throughout the Wisconsin case. It essentially measures and compares each party's wasted votes -those going to the victor in excess of what's needed for victory - in an election.
In states controlled by Republicans, Democrats have long complained that voting districts are created to disadvantage them. Then they divide that number by the total votes cast to produce a percentage, which they call the efficiency gap.
The dispute over Wisconsin's Republican-drawn election districts for the state legislature could enable Democrats to eliminate GOP-majority districts throughout the country, if challengers prevail.
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