Justices take on fight over partisan electoral maps

Justices take on fight over partisan electoral maps

Last November, a federal district court ruled that Republicans' 2011 gerrymandering effort in Wisconsin crossed a line and was unconstitutional.

By taking up the case, the Supreme Court is essentially promising to rule on the merits of the efficiency gap as a means of determining whether an improper partisan gerrymander has happened - and, if one has occurred, on whether that violates either First or 14th Amendment protections.

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.

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 supreme court has been willing to invalidate state electoral maps on the grounds of racial discrimination, as it did on 22 May, when it found Republican legislators in North Carolina had drawn two districts to diminish the statewide political clout of black voters. This isn't the first time that the Supreme Court is hearing a case on political gerrymandering, but all prior attempts failed to yield a precedent. The stay was opposed by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen, the court's four liberal-leaning justices. As Yale Law School dean Heather Gerken noted in a Vox piece following the initial district court decision, a gap above that amount indicates that the disadvantaged party "would have nearly no chance of taking control of the legislature during the 10-year districting cycle".

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Legendary journalist Lyle Denniston is Constitution Daily's Supreme Court correspondent.

Up to one-third of electoral maps in the U.S. could be affected by the justices' ruling, which is expected in the autumn.

The nation's highest court announced its decision to take the case in a brief order Monday.

The Court will hear the Wisconsin government's appeal of Gill v. Whitford, a legal challenge against the GOP-majority legislature's election map, The New York Times reports.

At issue is the question of whether the process of drawing new election district boundaries is unconstitutional if one political party specifically creates maps giving its own candidates a distinct advantage in getting elected, directly limiting the other party's chances at the polls. We proved in federal court that Democrats and Republicans are pretty evenly clustered throughout the state and that Democrats in Wisconsin have had their rights violated. These refer to packing like-minded voters, such as supporters of the same party, into a limited number of districts or cracking their influence by scattering them across districts in numbers too small to make an impact. If the state wins, there'll be no need for new districts. For example, in 2012, the Republican party received about 49% of the vote but won 60 of 99 seats in the state assembly.

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Supporters of Wisconsin's map say that "the election results it produced are similar to those under earlier court-drawn maps", as The Associated Press reports.

Wisconsin Democratic Party chairwoman Martha Laning said, however, that she is "confident that the 2011 legislative maps will be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court as well and electoral fairness will be restored to Wisconsin".

"As I have said before, our redistricting process was entirely lawful and constitutional, and the district court should be reversed", Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said.

Even justices who favor giving lawmakers discretion to draw district lines hold their noses when it comes to how they do it.

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