Justices take on fight over partisan electoral maps

20 June, 2017, 00:48 | Author: Lorena Waters
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The justices in a brief written order said they would review a redistricting case from Wisconsin, where a three-judge lower court previous year invalidated a redistricting plan enacted by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature in 2011.

It acknowledged the efficiency gap, but only as one of several theories the court said corroborated its findings that the Republican leadership had a discriminatory intent, that its plan had a discriminatory effect and that the state had no legitimate reason for drawing the districts in the way it did.

Last week, the League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit alleging that Pennsylvania's congressional district boundaries unfairly favor Republicans. Although Republicans and Democrats split the vote in the 2016 general election, the GOP has a 2-1 advantage in the state legislature.

The four more liberal justices, named to the court by Democrats, would have let the new line-drawing proceed even as the court considers the issue.

Potter added that his group was "confident that when the justices see how pervasive and damaging this practice has become, the Supreme Court will adopt a clear legal standard that will ensure our democracy functions as it should".

The justices regularly are called to invalidate state electoral maps that have been illegally drawn to reduce the influence of racial minorities by depressing the impact of their votes.

But Wisconsin officials defended the legislature's work and called on the justices to undo the lower-court ruling.

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

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This case revolves around redistricting - specifically, district lines in Wisconsin that challengers contend the Republicans unconstitutionally drew to favor themselves.

The court ordered a redrawing of political districts be in place by 1 November 2017, in time for the next state election in Wisconsin, in 2018. Election law experts say the case is the best chance yet for the high court to put limits on what lawmakers may do to gain a partisan advantage in creating political district maps.

It is a political act that is as old as the American Republic, drawing its name as a "gerrymander" from a member of the Founding generation, Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, for his infamous state senate districting map so misshapen that it resembled an awkward salamander.

"The threat of partisan gerrymandering isn't a Democratic or Republican issue; it's an issue for all American voters", Potter told The Washington Post.

In the past, the Supreme Court has struck down racial gerrymandering as unconstitutional, but it has never agreed to strike down a state's electoral map on the grounds it was overly partisan. And the reverse applies in Democrat states, although they are fewer in number. He said that leaves plenty of time before a June filing deadline for state legislative races.

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.

Before 2020, the case could affect congressional maps in about half a dozen states and legislative maps in about 10 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. In 2004, Justice Anthony Kennedy staked out a position somewhere between those two views, saying courts could referee claims of excessively partisan redistricting, but only if they can find a workable way to do so.

In the election following adoption of the new maps, Republicans got just 48.6 percent of the statewide vote, but captured a 60-to-39 seat advantage in the State Assembly.

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