You Be The Judge on Redistricting
Here are key arguments Supreme Court will hear. How would you rule?
You’re a U.S. Supreme Court justice hearing arguments in a major case from Wisconsin that could change how the nation handles redistricting of political maps, so put on your robe — and your thinking cap.
The U.S. Supreme Court routinely tosses out redistricting maps, which draw the boundaries of U.S. House and legislative districts, that discriminate against minorities. But tomorrow, it will hear arguments on whether a new standard – districts that blatantly discriminate against voters from one party or the other – should also be applied to redistricting.
Challengers to Wisconsin’s 2011 Republican-drawn maps say they have illegally high “efficiency gaps” that stack so many Democrats in a minority of districts, and so many Republicans in a majority of districts, that Republicans have an unconstitutional advantage.
Here is a preview of what you will hear tomorrow, taken from legal briefs from those challenging Wisconsin’s 2011 redistricting and those defending the current maps:
The criticism: “In recent years the two major political parties, leveraging the technologies of the modern age, have intentionally and systematically excluded each other from state legislatures like never before. Democrats rigged the maps in Illinois, Maryland and Rhode Island, while Republicans did so in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.”
Response: “The Wisconsin Legislature engaged in partisan gerrymandering early in the state’s history. In 1868, the Republican Legislature ‘gerrymandered’ the congressional districts to ensure that 5 of 6 Wisconsin House of Representatives members were Republicans. When Democrats gained control of the Assembly, they employed similar measures.”
Criticism: “This partisan gerrymandering has, in their states and across the nation, sounded the death knell of bipartisanship. When maps have been gerrymandered, candidates and legislators need worry only about primaries, which are increasingly won by politicians who cater to the far ends of the ideological poles. This lack of cooperation breeds distrust, dysfunction and hostility… The resulting malice and dysfunction are precisely the opposite of the ideal to which our democracy aspires.”
Response: “[Challengers] would also create an unthinkable imbalance…making allegations of partisan gerrymandering more legally powerful than claims even of racial gerrymandering…”
Criticism: “As those in power grow accustomed to choosing their own voters, they stop treating the people as constituents to whom they must answer. Meanwhile, legislators in safe districts ignore constituents who support the other party because the only election that matters is the primary.”
Response: “It is possible that a high ‘efficiency’ gap indicates nothing except that one party beat the other party in several close elections – a fact that says nothing about whether a map itself is too ‘partisan’.”
Response: “[Challengers] view of voting – regarding ballots as economic transactions, valuable only when ‘efficiently’ cast – distorts the role that votes play in our democracy….Democratic voters concentrate in big cities…
[Challengers] social-science approach would sow chaos. Each legislatively drawn plan would be immediately be challenged in federal court. There would be no way for any legislature to know what metric would guide the inevitable future trial.”
Criticism: “In today’s data-driven era, legislators who wish to secure their party’s hold on power need only reach out for the block-by-block voter information and sophisticated computer programs…Take, for example, the Wisconsin Assembly. In the 2012 elections, Democrats won their districts by an average vote of 68.8%, which netted 39 Assembly seats, while Republicans were able to win far more seats (60) by creating districts with a smaller, but still comfortable, margin of 59.7%.”
Response: “The Legislature’s map drawers took politics into account as one of many factors. The map-drawers first drew and then ‘locked’ in Milwaukee districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act. Then they carefully designed their draft maps to comply with equal-population requirements, as well as traditional redistricting principles such as compactness, contiguity and respect for political-subdivision lines.”
Criticism: “Modern-day gerrymandering by both parties represents a grave and growing threat to the Constitution’s vision of democracy. The Court has not hesitated to step in when incumbents seek to entrench themselves at voters’ expense or otherwise disenfranchise those they do not like.”
Response: “Federal courts lack jurisdiction to decide political questions….This court has never found that a state legislature engaged in unlawful partisan gerrymandering.”
Those are the key arguments. Now, Mr. or Ms. Justice, what is your decision?
- Your Right to Know: Redistricting Shouldn’t Be Done In Secret - Matthew DeFour - Mar 2nd, 2021
- Redistricting conversation continues on virtual “On the Issues,” Feb. 11 - Marquette University - Feb 10th, 2021
- Op Ed: Redistricting Should Consider Native Americans - Tehassi Hill - Feb 9th, 2021
- Op Ed: Why the War on Masks? Gerrymandering - Mel Barnes - Feb 7th, 2021
- Op Ed: Correct a Cheating System With Fair Maps - State Sen. Jeff Smith - Feb 3rd, 2021
- Will State Supreme Court Draw New Legislative Boundaries? - Shawn Johnson - Jan 15th, 2021
- Data Wonk: Tales Told By The 2020 Election - Bruce Thompson - Dec 31st, 2020
- Court Watch: 2,000 Object to Redistricting Proposal - Gretchen Schuldt - Dec 13th, 2020
- Murphys Law: Beware the GOP Redistricting Proposal - Bruce Murphy - Dec 2nd, 2020
- Op Ed: Dear Wisconsin Supreme Court - Matt Rothschild - Nov 23rd, 2020
Read more about Gerrymandering of Legislative Districts here