SCOTUS to Hear Wisconsin Case That Could Change Politics As We Know Them

On Monday, June 19, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would take up the case of political redistricting, referred to as gerrymandering, that began in Wisconsin, but could have implications for all 50 states on the subject of partisan gerrymandering.

The highest court in the nation has been asked to decide other cases of voter redistricting that involved charges of racial bias in the districts drawn within a state, a practice that effectively reduces or quashes the influence of minority voters at the polls. The Wisconsin case is different in that it addresses the issue of districts drawn for political purposes, giving the controlling party, whether Democrat or Republican, an advantage in upcoming elections.

Even though the previous redistricting cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, those that involved alleged racial bias also could affect the outcome of political races, the basis for those cases was race, not partisanship. The Wisconsin case, which SCOTUS intends to hear on its merits in October 2017, would be the one of the few instances of the highest court directly ruling on partisan-based political redistricting.

The last time SCOTUS took up the issue of gerrymandering was in 2004, where Justice Anthony Kennedy cast the determining vote that ruled out challenges to partisan-based redistricting but indicated he might change his mind if someone were to come up with a standard by which to do so. The defendants in the Wisconsin case say they have developed such a standard, a metric they refer to as an efficiency gap.

The high court’s announcement regarding the Wisconsin case is that the nine justices will hear the case for its merits before deciding whether it is an issue under the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction.

Before announcing the court’s decision to take up the Wisconsin case, the nine jurists voted 5 to 4 to stay a lower court’s ruling that the Republican state leadership in 2011 in that state so blatantly violated the First Amendment of the Constitution and voters’ equal rights that new voting districts must be drawn in time for the 2018 elections, work that has already begun. The five conservative justices voted for the stay, while the four liberal judges voted against it.

Might the development of a standard by which to measure political gain of one party over the other become the factor that determines if the justices that the Wisconsin appeal does fall under the high court’s jurisdiction? That won’t be known until at least October 2017.


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