The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in Gill v. Whitford, the partisan gerrymandering case from Wisconsin that could have implications for Texas’s current districts and the way they are drawn in the future. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has described it as one of the most important cases of the Court’s fall term.
Gerrymandering is typically understood as the intentional manipulation of district boundaries on the basis of race to generate a specific racial outcome, often resulting in strangely shaped districts. The Wisconsin case however revolves around the drawing of districts based on partisan election results and patterns to generate a specific partisan outcome. In this case, plaintiffs argue that the Republican-controlled Assembly packed Democratic voters into districts and otherwise cracked blocs of them to ensure a greater Republican advantage than would otherwise occur. The state Assembly drew the districts in 2011. In the 2012 election, Democrats received 51% of the vote statewide yet captured just 39 of the chamber’s 99 seats (39%).
A three-judge federal panel agreed with the plaintiffs last year. They concluded that partisan motivations can play a role in redistricting – It is an inherently political process. – but this Assembly essentially went too far to “lock in” a Republican advantage. The panel concluded that the maps were “intended to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters … by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats.” This “discriminatory effect is not explained by the political geography of Wisconsin” and thus “constitutes an unconstitutional political gerrymander.”
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