SCOTUS' Partisan Gerrymander Decision Will Impact North Carolina

Analysis: Virginia districts drawn to help GOP
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26 June, 2017

On Monday, the justices agreed to hear a constitutional challenge to a map for the Wisconsin Assembly drawn by Republicans in 2011.

The high court has been willing to invalidate state electoral maps on the grounds of racial discrimination, as it did on May 22 when it found that Republican legislators in North Carolina had drawn two electoral districts to diminish the statewide political clout of black voters.

The Wisconsin redistricting case may have some of the answers to Justice Kennedy's concerns about inserting the courts into reviewing partisan gerrymandering. If it does, it would have a revolutionary impact on the reapportionment that comes after the 2020 election. Democrats hope a favorable decision will help them cut into GOP electoral majorities. The 2011 Wisconsin gerrymander by the Republicans was considered one of most partisan of any Republican gerrymander in the nation that year.

In the Wisconsin case, a divided panel of three judges past year struck down the state's 2011 state assembly maps as drawn with discriminatory intent - "to entrench the Republican party in power" for the remainder of the decade.

"We're optimistic that the court will at last recognize that there is a point at which a partisan gerrymander goes too far", Mr. Geffen said in a phone interview. The process is supposed to ensure that voters in each state are properly represented in Congress. Gerrymandering-the drawing of congressional districts to favor one party over another by packing it full of a disproportionate number of one party's voters-is a practice both Democrats and Republicans use.

If the Court took the very unlikely but possible step of setting a standard to overturn partisan gerrymanders, then the implications and ramifications would be far reaching since numerous states now have partisan gerrymanders similar to Wisconsin's. The two top Republicans in the Legislature, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, say they're confident the Supreme Court will affirm the GOP maps. I think our experts said it would take a political natural disaster in Wisconsin for you to actually get Democrats back in control of the house (Assembly.) Even though, in 2012, over 50% of the state voted for Democrat candidates, yet 60% of the Legislature ended up Republican.

While courts have ruled that drawing district boundaries in a way that explicitly deprives racial minorities of votes does violate the Voting Rights Act, it's much trickier to determine whether a legislative map favors one political party over another, in part because political views can change.

Chief Justice John Roberts (second from right) and Justice Neil Gorsuch (center) walk down the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., last week. "As I have said before, our redistricting process was entirely lawful and constitutional, and the district court should be reversed". Four others - only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer remain of this group - said such challenges could be heard by the court, but disagreed on the method. Now the court has walked through that open door, with Kennedy as the likely deciding vote once again.

"The stay is particularly important because it preserves the Legislature's time, effort, and resources while this case is pending", wrote AG Schimel. "The decision in the Wisconsin case may finally allow them to make some sort of a test on how to decide on this".

Indeed, one of the defenses made by Wisconsin officials is that their districts are compact.


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