High court decision extends legal battle over gerrymandering

SCOTUS Punts on Two Gerrymandering Cases

In the Wisconsin case (Gill v. Whitford), though, the court ruled the plaintiffs lacked appropriate standing. Uncompetitive districts drew no competition at all.

Political scientists and some politicians were intrigued at the notion of an algorithm proving unconstitutionality, but at the October oral arguments Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. lambasted the concept as "sociological gobbledygook" and said "the intelligent man on the street is going to say that's a bunch of baloney". "The boundaries of the district, and the composition of its voters, determine whether and to what extent a particular voter is packed or cracked". But the court offered a consolation prize.

Roberts seems unconvinced. "Such invitations must be answered with care", he wrote.

Gill involves one of the most aggressive gerrymanders in the country, a Republican gerrymander that renders the Wisconsin state assembly virtually immune from democracy. Many expected a landmark ruling that could have reshaped the redistricting landscape in the upcoming 2018 election cycle.

TOTENBERG: Monday's ruling is an enigma in many ways. He can be reached by org jforward wisbar email or by phone at (608) 250-6161. Smith argued the case before the Court a year ago.

In the Maryland case, the court said the challengers had moved too slowly and that there was not enough time for orderly consideration of the case before the 2018 election season. Bottom line - the Supreme Court decided very little. The court says the plaintiffs were affected by their district, but not by the map as a whole.

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said he was "pleased that the highest court in the land has unanimously reversed the trial court's erroneous decision invalidating Wisconsin's Assembly map".

"But Wisconsin can still write the law".

The Court, asked to evaluate the constitutionality of a behind-closed-doors gerrymander that landed Montgomery Mall in the same Congressional district as Maryland's Appalachian panhandle, instead avoided the question by retreating to purely procedural grounds.

The case originated in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

"I think the lines are fair when we sign them and the bottom line is the United States Supreme Court on a unanimous decision decided the state of Wisconsin was right in its case", Gov. Scott Walker said Monday. One was a Wisconsin lawsuit challenging a severe redistricting of state legislative bodies that led to Republicans getting a big majority of seats despite winning a minority of votes in 2012 and 2014. He lives in Dane County, an exceptionally liberal county, that overwhelmingly votes for Democrats and is nearly exclusively represented by Democrats.

Were this the Court's final word on how partisan gerrymanders may proceed, it would be a disaster for anti-gerrymandering plaintiffs. However, the Court still left a window ajar. "Remedying the harm does not necessarily require restructuring all of the state's legislative districts", Roberts notes in his opinion.

Two of Nate's models come close to this, with the compact districts leading to this map, and maps maximizing the race diversity of Congress leading to this map.

The case is important to workers because GOP-gerrymandered legislatures nationwide, including in North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Missouri, have spent their time actively pushing through anti-worker legislation. Supreme Court still can't figure out what to do about extreme partisan gerrymandering, the justices' failure to act has already had a deep impact on laws and policies across America. Again, the justices identified the problem of standing.

"This court is not responsible for vindicating generalized partisan preferences", the chief justice wrote.

"Partisan-asymmetry metrics such as the efficiency gap measure something else entirely: the effect that a gerrymander has on the fortunes of political parties". "But our cases to date have not found that this presents an individual and personal injury of the kind required for Article III standing". Rather, much of the plaintiffs' evidence addressed the statewide partisan advantage arising from the packing and cracking. The court was powerless to consider the issue, he wrote, because the plaintiffs had not shown that their own voting power in their own districts had been diluted.

Kagan laid out a road map for future challenges, including under a test Kennedy has proposed: that partisan redistricting schemes might be judged as punishment for voters due to their past political allegiances, which would violate the First Amendment.

Two justices, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, would have dismissed the cases outright rather than sending them back to the lower courts.

"It is an overused phrase but particularly apt here: Justice delayed is justice denied", he added.

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