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20 June 2017, 04:46 | Darnell Patrick
Supreme Court to decide on partisan gerrymandering: Can it be used to create favorable voting districts?
At issue is whether Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin drew legislative districts that favored their party and were so out of whack with the state's political breakdown that they violated the constitutional rights of Democratic voters.
Courts have rejected district election maps on grounds they were drawn outlandishly to disadvantage minority voters.
The state appealed to the supreme court, arguing that recent election results favoring Republicans were "a reflection of Wisconsin's natural political geography", with Democrats concentrated in urban areas including Milwaukee and Madison. In 2012, the first election following the enactment of the new maps, Republicans received only 48.6 percent of the vote but won a 60 to 39 legislative advantage in the State Assembly.
The Supreme Court will take up a fight over parties manipulating electoral districts to gain partisan advantage in a case that could affect the balance between Democrats and Republicans in many states.
And it gives the court an opportunity to formally determine a metric on what constitutes unlawful gerrymandering, which could have major implications for the way voting districts are drawn in other states.
Republicans aggressively gerrymandered Wisconsin after they gained unified control of state government in the 2010 midterm wave.
States redraw districts for House seats in Congress and for legislative districts in state legislatures.
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The justices have never fully answered when partisan gerrymanders - or maps that benefit one political party to the detriment of another - could be unconstitutional.
"The federal trial court found that Wisconsin citizens' rights were violated and that the only solution was a new district maps in time for the 2018 election", said Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, which organized and launched the lawsuit.
In the drawing of the 2016 congressional districts, Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Harnett County who has been chairman of the redistricting committee, made a statement that has been cited in lawsuits related to partisan gerrymandering claims.
Plaintiffs in the case asserted that GOP lawmakers had drawn district lines to divide Democratic majorities into smaller districts in order to dilute their electoral impact, as well as to corral Democratic voters into a small number of districts that already favor their party.
Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center, which is representing the voters who challenged the maps: "You would like a situation where the legislative outcomes accurately reflect the actions of the voters". And the justices must also decide whether they even have the jurisdiction to rule in the Wisconsin case, a question they left open in accepting the case.
The Wisconsin redistricting case may have some of the answers to Justice Kennedy's concerns about inserting the courts into reviewing partisan gerrymandering. "In 2014 and 2016, Republicans extended their advantage to 63 and 64 seats, respectively, even though the statewide vote remained almost tied".
"I acknowledge freely that this would be a political gerrymander, which is not against the law", Lewis said.
In states controlled by Republicans, Democrats have long complained that voting districts are created to disadvantage them. In our stay application, I argued that requiring the Legislature to re-draw district maps this year would have been a waste of resources.
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