Supreme Court to review partisan redistricting

Frederick Owens
June 20, 2017

"Prior to the last decennial redistricting in 2010, voters approved an independent redistricting commission that was tasked with applying specific redistricting criteria that excluded consideration of incumbency and moreover prohibited drawing districts to favor an incumbent, candidate, or political party", said a statement from California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

It's the high court's first case on what's known as partisan gerrymandering in more than a decade.

GOP leaders were quick to respond to the decision.

The case will be argued in the fall.

This morning, following the US Supreme Court's decision to hear a case with the potential to end hyper-partisan gerrymandering, Chair of the Patriotic Millionaires Morris Pearl, former managing director at BlackRock Inc.

The term gerrymandering - or an attempt to gerrymander - was born in the USA state of MA in 1812, when governor Elbridge Gerry signed a bill that was felt to benefit his party. The Court will hear the case of Whitford v. Nichol, which alleges Wisconsin lawmakers drew districts to favor Republicans.

This case could have "enormous ramifications", Steve Vladeck, a professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law, told CNN This would be the first time the court has "articulated a constitutional rule in this context", he said. And if a Democrat got a lot of votes there, but they only get one seat, they're saying that they wasted a lot of votes to get those seats.

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"This is far and away the most promising time for legal challenges to partisan gerrymandering that we've seen in a generation", he said in a telephone interview.

In a subsequent ruling, the lower court ordered that the Legislature must have a new redistricting plan in place by November 1, 2017, for the 2018 general election. They said the results under the legislature's map were "remarkably similar" to election outcomes under earlier, court-drawn districts.

I am thrilled the Supreme Court has granted our request to review the redistricting decision and that Wisconsin will have an opportunity to defend its redistricting process. The Supreme Court hasn't weighed in on the issue in more than a decade and could be sharply divided. Oral arguments are scheduled at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 18, before the Kansas Supreme Court. In that case and again in 2006, Kennedy didn't find one.

The justices have never fully answered when partisan gerrymanders - or maps that benefit one political party to the detriment of another - could be unconstitutional. Republicans disagree. They say the maps reflect the population: districts are mainly blue, or Democratic, in urban areas, while districts elsewhere are mainly red, or Republican. Both political parties do it when they can. Redistricting occurs based on the results of the U.S. Census, which is held every 10 years. The state's lawyers said the districts were compact and neatly drawn. Cities do it for city council districts. "And by that metric, plaintiffs looked back at redistricting plans throughout the USA, going back to 1972, and Wisconsin's redistricting plan was one of the most strongly political gerrymandered in history". It compares the total number of votes cast for the Legislature statewide to the total number of seats a party wins. They also have majorities in an all-time high of 69 of 99 state legislative chambers, according to the Republican State Leadership Committee.

"The court is surely aware that this decade produced some of the most aggressive partisan gerrymandering in the modern era". The gerrymandering has helped create a polarised political environment, some have said, in which Republicans and Democrats struggle to reach compromises on major policy issues such as healthcare and government spending. Specifically, the case will be heard during the Supreme Court term which begins in October.

Court observers say Justice Anthony Kennedy is the one to watch.

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