State News

Supreme Court considers Wisconsin redistricting case ahead of 2018 election

U.S. Supreme Court began considering a case Tuesday to determine if Wisconsin’s district lines are constitutional. 

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The U.S. Supreme Court began deliberating Tuesday to decide whether the engaged in unconstitutional gerrymandering when they created new legislative districts after the 2011 election.

Republicans took control of both houses in the state Legislature in 2011 and redrew district lines shortly after. The lawsuit was first filed in 2015 by voters who claimed the map suppressed Democratic votes by confining them to one district instead of spreading them fairly throughout party-contests districts.

Gerrymandering — the swaying of political processes towards the favor of a particular party — is and has been used by both political parties throughout history. The practice would help boost a party’s ability to control state government.

A three-panel judge lower court had previously declared the GOP district map as unconstitutionally partisan in a 2-1 decision. The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the districts violated the Equal Protection Clause, which ensures states cannot deny any person their rights.

The federal court ruled that the state Legislature must redraw the district maps in anticipation of the 2018 electoral season.

State Attorney General Brad Schimel then appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now, the case is in the Supreme Court for further deliberation, the verdict of which could reconstitute the distribution of electoral maps throughout the country.

“It all depends on Kennedy,” said political science professor Ryan Owens, referring to SCOTUS Justice Anthony Kennedy, who could tip the scale in the debate.

As the issue remains at a stalemate, the split court of conservative and liberal justices are appealing to the “traditionally manageable” Kennedy for his decision, according to Owens.

Kennedy’s vote will be determined on how well plaintiffs prove gerrymandering, what standards the court will use to judge district lines and how big a role Kennedy believes the court should play a role in dictating legislative maps, Owens said.

Owens added that Kennedy won’t comply with either side until the challengers have an easy way to prove gerrymandering, justices decide the standards by which courts constitute district lines and how far the courts should weigh in for dictating legislative maps.

This proposal received heavy criticism from Republicans, who say the geographical distribution of voters is already skewed due to Democratic voters tending to live in urban areas, resulting in fewer party votes across multiple districts.

As for the upcoming 2018 electoral season, it is uncertain whether a decision will affect voters or even if a SCOTUS deliberation will arrive by then.

Owens contends that the 2018 season is “unclear,” stating that the court has multiple options and several issues to settle before reaching a clear verdict.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin legislators running for re-election, as well as candidates plotting campaigns, face their own trials in whether to apply themselves in the old, established districts or wait for the potentially reworked districts. 

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