Monday, June 19, 2017

Supreme Court to hear case on constitutionality of districts drawn for partisan advantage

The Supreme Court said Monday that it will consider whether gerrymandered election maps favoring one political party over another are constitutional. The decision could potentially create a fundamental change in the way American elections are conducted, reports Robert Barnes of The Washington Post .

"The justices regularly are called to invalidate state electoral maps that have been illegally drawn to reduce the influence of racial minorities by depressing the impact of their votes," Barnes reports. "But the Supreme Court has never found a plan unconstitutional because of partisan gerrymandering. If it does, it would have a revolutionary impact on the reapportionment that comes after the 2020 election and could come at the expense of Republicans, who control the process in the majority of states."

The difference in this case is that political scientists came up with a formula to calculate just how much partisan advantage had skewed the ideally neutral redistricting of the legislature in Wisconsin. A panel of federal judges ruled 2-1 last year that Republican leader pushed through a plan in 2011 so partisan that it violated the Constitution, Barnes writes. The case will be briefed and argued in the judicial term that begins in October.

In the election after adoption of the new maps, Republicans got less than 49 percent of the statewide vote, but captured a 60-to-39 seat advantage in the State Assembly. "The threat of partisan gerrymandering isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue; it’s an issue for all American voters," said Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center, and former Republican chairman of the Federal Election Commission. "Across the country, we’re witnessing legislators of both parties seizing power from voters in order to advance their purely partisan purposes. We’re confident that when the justices see how pervasive and damaging this practice has become, the Supreme Court will adopt a clear legal standard that will ensure our democracy functions as it should."

Barnes explains, "The Supreme Court has been reluctant to tackle partisan gerrymandering and sort through arguments about whether an electoral system is rigged or, instead, a party’s political advantage is because of changing attitudes and demographics, as Wisconsin Republicans contend."

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