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Gerrymandering: Drawing districts for political advantage

20 June 2017

The Supreme Court will take up the most important gerrymandering case in more than a decade, it announced Monday.

Summary: The United States Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding gerrymandering, specifically the gerrymandering of districts in Wisconsin.

A ruling that partisan gerrymanders are unlawful would dramatically recast the apportionment process and shuffle the balance of power in Congress and state legislatures.

An example of "packing" could be seen in the recent North Carolina congressional districts in 2016.

"The Supreme Court has the opportunity to ensure the maps in Wisconsin are drawn fairly, and further, has the opportunity to create ground rules that safeguard every citizen's right to freely choose their representatives", added Smith, who will argue the case before the justices.

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The voters who are challenging the plan, led by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, argue that the map allowed Wisconsin's state Assembly to not resemble the electorate in a closely divided swing state that has supported presidential candidates from both parties and now has one Democrat and one Republican representing it in the U.S. Senate. The court has ruled similarly on Virginia and Alabama racial redistricting plans.

While the precise schedule of Wisconsin's redistricting case is not yet known, experts say the court could hear oral arguments late this year or early next year, and a decision in the case is nearly sure to come by June 2018.

In 2012, Republicans won 48.6 percent of the statewide vote for Assembly candidates but captured 60 of the Assembly's 99 seats.

But Republicans have more to lose because they control so many more legislatures.

"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 Virginia, where President Trump lost handily, Republicans have 66 of 100 seats in the House of Delegates.

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Although the GOP controls the Statehouse in Iowa through at least 2018, it does not control the congressional and legislative redistricting process here. But they have all the levers of power in just six states; Republicans control 25 states, with 197 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives.

Longtime Democratic Party activist Bill Whitford brought the case Gill v. Whitford, which challenges Wisconsin's 2011 State Assembly map as unconstitutional.

The court on Monday stayed a ruling requiring the Republican-controlled Legislature to draw new maps by November.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case on legislative redistricting, which could have implications for Texas. The court's four liberal justices dissented from that order.

In his concurrence, Justice Anthony Kennedy laid out what he saw as the two obstacles to tackling partisan gerrymandering by the courts: first, that there are no "comprehensive and neutral principles for drawing electoral boundaries", and second, there are "rules to limit and confine" when the courts should engage in reviewing redistricting claims. The ruling was the first time in over three decades that a federal court invalidated a redistricting plan for partisan bias.

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In last year's report, "The Most Exciting Attack On Partisan Gerrymandering In Over A Decade", ThinkProgress Justice Editor Ian Millhiser wrote, "a dozen years after [Justice] Kennedy despaired for want of a workable way to uncover partisan gerrymanders, two young scholars may have cracked the code".