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Supreme Court May Hear Partisan Gerrymandering Case with Nationwide Implications

Image: Supreme Court May Hear Partisan Gerrymandering Case with Nationwide Implications

Wisconsin state Capitol in Madison. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer, File)

By    |   Sunday, 11 Jun 2017 05:50 PM

On Monday, the Supreme Court could announce its decision to either affirm or reverse a decision by Wisconsin's lower court where plaintiffs argue that district lines redrawn in 2011 were gerrymandered to give an advantage to Republican candidates, The Washington Post reported Sunday.

Calling it a "watershed case," The Post reported that while the Supreme Court had regularly tossed out a state's electoral map over gerrymandering along racial lines, it had never found a plan unconstitutional for partisan gerrymandering. The justices could also accept the case for a full briefing in the fall.

If the Supreme Court finds the state plan violates the Constitution's First Amendment that grants equal rights protections, the ramifications could affect the way American elections are conducted, as Republicans and Democrats nationwide have complained that redistricting plans favor one party over the other.

The justices last took up a partisan gerrymandering case in 2004, but the justices were split for a variety of reasons, the main one being the lack of a test to determine whether the intent of a redistricting plan was to unconstitutionally dilute someone's vote.

At that time, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy stated the court needed "a manageable standard by which to measure the effect of the apportionment and so to conclude that the state did impose a burden or restriction on the rights of a party's voters."

Since then, several attempts at arriving at such a test have been devised, but have failed to garner acceptance. However, one formula, called the "efficiency gap," developed by experts at the Public Policy Institute of California, may be the test the Supreme Court could use.

A similar case is currently making its way through the court system in Maryland where Republicans are challenging the way Democrats drew district lines, and a case is already before the Supreme Court over complaints of partisan gerrymandering by Republicans in North Carolina.

But, in Wisconsin, the 2011 redistricting plan is under fierce debate.

"People have come to realize their votes aren't as important as they once were. And, that's really what this whole case is about. It's about making sure people's votes have equal value," said Dale Schulz, a former Republican Wisconsin legislator who is working with his Democratic counterpart, former state Sen. Tim Cullen, to find a resolution to the issue.

Misha Tseytlin is Wisconsin's solicitor general defending the plan and maintained what might look like lopsided Republican wins was due to GOP voters being spread out over the state, with Democratic voters clustering in Madison and Milwaukee, and also because Republicans were successful in gaining voters.

"I think that political gerrymandering has become a — I don't want to say an excuse, but something that a lot of folks who are frustrated by the state-level elections over the last eight years have come to rely on as an excuse," he said. "It's easier to have a villain than to say, oh, our party isn't doing well, not selling its message or, unfortunately for our party, our voters are clustering in major cities."

Tseylin also said the test the lower court used to try to reverse the redistricting plan was "kind of like a social-science mishmash."

The plaintiffs are being represented by Paul M. Smith, vice president for litigation and strategy at the Campaign Legal Center, which believes the "efficiency gap" may be the test the Supreme Court has been needing.

"We don't think any one formula has to have some kind of talismanic significance," Smith said. "The conclusion that this is one of the most extreme gerrymanders ever done is supported by the evidence — indeed, it's compelled by the evidence — and supported by all of the different measures."

Wisconsin has a history of split government, the article explained, and the 2011 plan was the first in the state in decades.

Madison resident William Whitford is one of 12 plaintiffs in the case and said that as a Democrat, this attempt offered "the only chance for me to influence policy," but also recognized Republicans may have an advantage.

"I tell people, no harm is going to come from this case," Whitford said. "But, we'll be lucky to get a level playing field. It may be still tilted, just not as tilted."

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On Monday, the Supreme Court could announce its decision to either affirm or reverse a decision by Wisconsin's lower court where plaintiffs argue that district lines redrawn in 2011 were gerrymandered to give an advantage to Republican candidates, The Washington Post...
Supreme Court, partisan gerrymandering, Republicans, Democrats, Wisconsin
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