Supreme Court Avoids Answer on Partisan Gerrymandering in Wisconsin, Maryland Cases

Protesters rally against partisan gerrymandering before the Supreme Court last

Protesters rally against partisan gerrymandering before the Supreme Court last

In considering a Republican-drawn map from Wisconsin and a Democratic effort in Maryland, the court had raised the possibility of producing a landmark change in the way the nation's elections are conducted.

The high court was asked to settle that question in cases about aggressive Republican mapmaking in Wisconsin and assertive Democratic cartography in Maryland. In the Wisconsin case (Gill v. Whitford), though, the court ruled the plaintiffs lacked appropriate standing. Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts said that a citizen's right to vote is embodied in his right to vote for his representative, not in an abstract interest in the overall makeup of the legislature. Now, instances of racially motivated voter suppression must be challenged one by one - and, as we saw in the case of Ohio's voter purges last week, these individual cases are often punted back to state election boards, overwhelmingly controlled by the GOP. In district court, the Democrat plaintiffs were successful in arguing that the redistricting maps, redrawn by the Wisconsin Legislature every 10 years after the federal census, unconstitutionally "packed" and "cracked" Democrats for partisan advantage.

Nate Silver, the numbers guru who was trashed by fellow liberals for continuing to insist Donald Trump could very easily win the presidency, lays out 8 computer models of how districts could be drawn and it is time to insist districts be drawn to force politicians to pay attention to constituents rather than advance one party over the other.

California, for example, has its own redistricting organization.

Rather than endorse limits or rule them out altogether, the court decided each case on procedural grounds.

This had always been a weakness of the Wisconsin challenge, and the plaintiffs knew it.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined on Monday to pass judgment on a pair of challenges to partisan gerrymandering.

The basic conflict with gerrymandering is that the political party in power can draw the districts to benefit them, allowing politicians to pick their voters to help them get re-elected.

Working in its favor is this system's simplicity: No software is needed, just election results and basic math. They'll be determined by a less flashy, but perhaps even more critical, issue. This model is responsible, efficient, and affordable. Uncompetitive districts drew no competition at all.

Thus, the fight to reign in partisan gerrymandering and vindicate our Constitution's fundamental promise of democracy will continue.

The Court's unanimous, unsigned opinion in Benisek is particularly unsatisfying. That unanimity, though, tells only half the story.

In Wisconsin, the plaintiffs had brought a statewide claim, challenging the entire map as a whole, but the Court said that plaintiffs can only bring a challenge to a specific district in which they live. Once there is sufficient standing established, Kagan argues, then statewide evidence (such as the Efficiency Gap metric) and a statewide remedy could be on the table. "We are disappointed that the Court failed to set a standard when it comes to partisan gerrymandering".

"There's something I find very satisfying about the fact that the center has held".

Alternatively, the justices could wait and see whether the Maryland or Wisconsin cases return to the Supreme Court. Should the Supreme Court eventually restrict partisan gerrymandering, it still can't undo the policies those lawmakers enacted in the meantime. But pushing this decision down the road upholds gerrymandered maps during a critical midterm cycle and leaves the matter to a future and likely more conservative court.

That meant, Roberts wrote, that the plaintiff could not pursue a claim that his voting power within his district had been diminished by the current voting map. "Failure of political will does not justify unconstitutional remedies". In closely divided states like New Hampshire and North Dakota - where U.S. Senate races can be decided by only a few hundred votes - Republican lawmakers have passed voter restrictions that make it harder for Democratic populations to cast ballots.

Third, the voters themselves can still take legislative line-drawing away from entrenched politicians. The Court seems no closer to entering the political thicket of partisan gerrymandering than it was when Justice Kennedy wrote in Vieth v. Jubelirer (2004) "there are yet no agreed upon substantive principles of fairness in districting", and that, consequently, "we have no basis on which to define clear, manageable, and politically neutral standards for measuring the particular burden" on constitutional rights. But that Court has gradually slipped out of reach until the present Court has become an apologist for the abuses of the rich and the powerful, giving corporations the power to shred the rights of employees, customers, neighbors and political opponents.

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