The U.S. Supreme Court announced it will hear oral arguments in a Wisconsin case (Gill v. Whitford) on partisan gerrymandering, a highly watched case that could significantly alter the way congressional and legislative districts are drawn.
In November, a three-judge federal panel struck down the state Assembly’s districts after finding the maps were “intended to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters … by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats.” The court ruled that the “discriminatory effect is not explained by the political geography of Wisconsin” and thus “constitutes an unconstitutional political gerrymander.” The ruling does not touch on Senate districts, but they will be changed because each is comprised by three Assembly districts.
According to the Brennan Center, this marked the first time a federal court has ruled in favor of plaintiffs asserting a partisan gerrymandering argument in more than 30 years. The issue most recently came before the Supreme Court about 15 years ago, but the Justices failed to define a standard for passing constitutional muster.
SCOTUS also stayed the lower court’s judgment on a 5-4 vote with Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor voting to deny the stay. The stay effectively blocks a requirement that the state redraw its districts by November 1, greatly increasing the odds that the current maps will stay in place for the 2018 elections.
Republicans hold 64 of the 99 seats in the Assembly and 20 of the 33 seats in the state senate. Yet, Democratic candidates collectively received more votes statewide than Republicans. Plaintiffs argued that many of these votes were “wasted” in non-competitive, heavily Democratic districts.
The case could have significant impacts in Texas, where 40 of the 150 House districts saw straight-party advantages in excess of 20K votes in the 2016 general election.
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