With Wisconsin case, Supreme Court takes up partisan gerrymandering

OPINION: What gerrymandering is and why the Supreme Court might finally crack down on it

"If you let this go, if you say we're not going to have a judicial remedy for this problem, in 2020 you're going to have a festival of copycat gerrymandering the likes of which this country has never seen", Paul Smith, an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center, said at Tuesday's arguments. Alito cited a 2004 decision, Vieth v. Jubelirer, in which Justice Antonin Scalia-joined by a plurality of the Court's conservatives-declared flatly that "the judicial department has no business entertaining the claim" of unlawful partisan gerrymandering, "because the question is entrusted to one of the political branches". He said Smith was asking the courts to effectively take over the process of redistricting from elected officials, something he said would lead the public to question the "status and integrity of decisions of this court". It would open up a whole new line of attack on redistricting plans, which judges already scrutinize for racial discrimination and many other factors.

"We would have to decide in every case whether the Democrats win or the Republicans win", the chief justice warned. Now Justice Neil Gorsuch has been seated, creating a 5-4 conservative majority. The plaintiffs in the case are average Wisconsin citizens who believe deeply in democracy and believe that the right to vote is a right worth fighting for. There also are the Republican-sponsored voter suppression laws created to impede people's ability to exercise the right to vote, and to do so in ways that fall most heavily on those presumed to be more likely to support the opposition party.

When the lawyers for the state said any evaluation of a plan would necessitate the court to rely on predictions of voter behavior, Justice Elena Kagan said that would not be hard. As Justice Ginsburg warned, "if you can stack a legislature in this way, what incentive is there" to vote? Republican legislators, once in power, secretly and aggressively devised new legislative boundaries that have enabled them to retain their grip on power even after, in subsequent elections, losing majority support among the citizens of Wisconsin.

How could the court rule and what's the potential impact?

"Politicians are never going to fix gerrymandering".

The court is considering the legality of partisan gerrymandering, the practice that began two centuries ago of manipulating boundaries of legislative districts to benefit one party and diminish another, and whether the Republicans who drew Wisconsin's electoral map meant to reduce the clout of Democratic voters.

The outcome could change the way American elections are conducted.

The National Redistricting Foundation says Republicans in Georgia have abused the Voting Rights Act to hide their intentions, the New York Times reported. When Erin Murphy, who argued in favor of the Wisconsin Legislature, argued that state Democrats "have not come up with a workable standard to determine when a map is too political", Kennedy responded that a manageable standard could be whether a map was drawn with the "overriding concern
" to "have a maximum number of votes for party X or party Y".

Wisconsin is appealing a lower court's ruling that the electoral map devised by state Republicans had such extreme partisan aims that it violated the constitutional rights of voters. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that allowing people to be detained indefinitely was a sign of "lawlessness".

Kennedy suggested that courts could be involved in placing limits on extremely partisan electoral maps. We will most likely know in June whether the Court's right flank managed to pull him back into their fold.

U.S. Supreme Court justices on Monday expressed skepticism toward part of an immigration law requiring the deportation of immigrants who commit violent felonies because of uncertainty over which crimes fit the bill and which do not. That strategy, followed by Democratic redistricters in Maryland and IL, has produced the nation's most grotesquely shaped congressional districts. Since these techniques have been used to such good effect by map-makers, they argued, so too should the courts use them to evaluate the propriety of district lines. In one analysis, Democrats captured far fewer state Assembly seats even when they won roughly the same percentage of the statewide vote as Republicans. By some estimates, that has given the GOP as many as 22 seats in the House of Representatives that they otherwise wouldnt have won, and thats before we get to state races.

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