Supreme Court to consider whether partisan election maps are unconstitutional

The Supreme Court has never found a redistricting plan unconstitutional because of partisan gerrymandering

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The Independent Online

The US Supreme Court will evaluate whether gerrymandered election maps drawn to give a political party an unfair advantage are unconstitutional, which could result in a fundamental change to the way American elections are conducted.

The court’s consideration of the issue comes as observers from both of the US’s two main political parties continue to lament about how redistricting has become more pervasive and partisan over the last decade. The gerrymandering has helped create a polarised political environment, some have said, in which Republicans and Democrats struggle to reach compromises on major policy issues such as healthcare and government spending.

As districts become less competitive, people elected to represent those areas in government move closer to their ideological bases and further away from the political centre, the Brookings Institution – a nonpartisan think tank – has said.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the state of Wisconsin’s appeal against a decision finding that the state’s Republican leadership in 2011 pushed through a redistricting plan so partisan that it violated the Constitution.

In 2012, after the adoption of the new map, Republicans won 48.6 per cent of the statewide vote but captured 60 seats in the 99-seat State Assembly.

The case, which will be briefed and argued during the Supreme Court’s next term that starts in October, could determine how far state legislatures can go in structuring maps for partisan gain.

While the Supreme Court has never found a plan unconstitutional because of partisan gerrymandering, federal courts have previously ruled that maps that employ “racial gerrymandering” are against the law.

In racial gerrymandering, map lines are drawn to lower the influence of minority voters, who tend to vote in favour of the Democratic Party.

Even though both political parties draw congressional and legislative districts to their own advantage, since Republicans control more state legislatures, they have more to lose if the Supreme Court determines that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. 

In its brief to the high court, the state of Wisconsin asked the nine justices to reject any effort that “wrests control of districting away from the state legislators to whom the state constitution assigns that task, and hands it to federal judges and opportunistic plaintiffs seeking to accomplish in court what they failed to achieve at the ballot box.”

Meanwhile, the dozen plaintiffs – voters across the state – said the evidence laid out at the trial in the case showed that “Republican legislative leaders authorised a secretive and exclusionary mapmaking process aimed at securing for their party a large advantage that would persist no matter what happened in future elections.”

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