Supreme Court Rules On Gerrymandering In Wisconsin And Maryland

Saturday, 23 Jun, 2018

The Supreme Court avoided a decision on setting limits to partisan gerrymandering Monday, with a ruling that said the plaintiffs in Gill v. Whitford didn't have standing to challenge Wisconsin's statewide assembly district map.

-Should courts even be involved in the political task of redistricting?

Most of the cases will not affect this year's elections. Though changes in district lines aren't necessary this year, by the next election in 2020, it could be up for debate depending on the outcome of these cases in the next term.

Act I opened the first week in October when the nine justices heard arguments in the Wisconsin Republican gerrymander, a design that delivered almost two-thirds of the districts to the GOP even as Republicans lost the statewide vote. The Maryland case was about a Democratic gerrymander, where the Democratic legislature redrew one district from performing majority-Republican to majority-Democrat to sustain its dominance. It's since been held by a Democrat. Thanks for nothing, Supreme Court. The ruling allows it to proceed.

"With enough plaintiffs joined together - attacking all the packed and cracked districts in a statewide gerrymander - those obligatory revisions could amount to a wholesale restructuring of the state's districting plan", Kagan wrote for the group.

What the Koch brothers and Republicans learned is that these individual races are less important than underlying state legislative contests.

Attorney Mimi McKenzie had hoped the court would set a new federal standard. Those maps were permanently adopted by the Legislature and governor in 2013. The Court did not rule on the actual merits of this case and thankfully they rejected the extreme decision by Justice Thomas and Gorsuch to dismiss this case.

People lined up, in October 2017, outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington to hear arguments in a case about political maps in Wisconsin that could affect elections across the country. Wisconsin Solicitor General Misha Tseytlin represented the state, and Kirkland & Ellis partner Erin Murphy argued on behalf of the state Senate. "The point is that the plaintiff can show, through drawing alternative district lines, that partisan-based packing or cracking diluted her vote".

Pending before the court is a challenge of North Carolina's redistricting.

Unfortunately, the high court continues to step away from creative solutions to systemic problems.

Since the Wisconsin case was heard, courts in North Carolina and Pennsylvania have struck down Republican-drawn maps.

In the second ruling Monday, the court without any dissents cleared a Democratic-drawn congressional district in Maryland for use in the November election.

"While I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen not to decide on the merits of extreme partisan gerrymandering for now, it is not the end of the war for fair districts", he wrote Monday in a Facebook post.

In the long run, he said, "we're going to see this as really the dam breaking and an extraordinary opportunity to clean up the unfairness of our political system".

The Supreme Court's decision in Gill v. Whitford is a disappointment and missed opportunity - but it is not unexpected.

What is redistricting, and how is it different from gerrymandering?

Americans often seem proud of their democracy, notes Pippa Norris at Harvard University, but experts rank USA elections among the worst in all Western democracies. That case is still pending.

Writing for the court in the Wisconsin case, Chief Justice John Roberts said electoral maps on a statewide basis can not be challenged as a whole. In the Maryland case, the Court did no more than rule that a federal trial court had not been wrong when it refused to block the Democratic plan because, among other reasons, that court wanted to await the Supreme Court's coming decision in the Wisconsin case. Both Republican incumbents were re-elected over black Democratic challengers in 2016. Republicans control the Legislature and have a majority of Michigan's congressional delegation. The lines were redrawn in 2011-12. The maps appeared to secure Democrats seven of eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Remedying the individual voter's harm, therefore, does not necessarily require restructuring of all the state's legislative districts", he said. Smith argued the case before the Court a year ago.

The vast majority of Americans are fed up and want the FixIt America approach of ending overt gerrymandering and secret political payments that let politicians choose their voters rather than the other way around. (Nebraska, which has a single legislative chamber, is officially nonpartisan).