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Supreme Court Accepts Wisconsin Gerrymandering Case

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a case addressing the constitutionality of gerrymandering legislative districts.

A special federal district court panel made up of three judges ruled last year, in a split 2-1 decision, that the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature acted unconstitutionally in drawing its legislative districts for partisan gain in 2011.

“In 2012, after the map was introduced, Republicans won 60 seats in the 99-seat Assembly, even though the party’s candidates won 48.6 percent of the two-party vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice,” The Hill reported.

However, supporters of Wisconsin’s map say that “the election results it produced are similar to those under earlier court-drawn maps,” according to ABC News.

The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that gerrymandering could be a violation of the 14th Amendment’s right to equal protection under the law, but it has not been able to articulate in a majority opinion a standard of what a violation looks like.

The Court has most consistently found the drawing of legislative districts to be a political matter, generally outside of the purview of the judicial branch.

The federal district court ruled in November against the state of Wisconsin under a newly articulated theory of party “entrenchment.”

According to the National Constitutional Center, “Because the new (legislative) districts will effectively keep Democrats in a minority status in the Assembly for the rest of the decade, the ruling said, Democratic voters will be deprived of their opportunity to elect legislators of their choice, to represent their interests, in violation of their constitutional right to join with voters of like political sentiments — under the First Amendment — and to legal equality — under the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The Court required Wisconsin to draw up a new district plan by this fall.

The Supreme Court, in accepting the appeal from the state of Wisconsin, put a stay on the lower court ruling calling for the new plan until after the high court issues a decision.

Justice eil Gorsuch’s vote for the stay – joining Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas – proved decisive in the preliminary ruling. Meanwhile, liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan all voted against it.

Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law, told the network the current case could have enormous ramifications.

He stated “it would be the first time the court has articulated a constitutional rule in this context, which could — and likely would — have enormous ramifications nationwide.”

Josh Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law who specializes in election law and voting rights, concurred, telling CNN: “This will be the biggest and most important election law case in decades. However the Court rules will affect elections for years to come.”

The Supreme Court will hear the case during its next term, which begins in October.

A case charging Maryland Democrats with unconstitutionally redrawing districts in their favor is currently making its wy through the court system as well.

However, Republicans have more at stake in a Supreme Court ruling on gerrymandering, given the GOp control in the majority of state legislatures.

The Washington Post reported that “former president Barack Obama has said one of his post-presidency projects will be to combat partisan gerrymanders after the 2020 Census.”