Will U.S. Supremes Rule on State Districts?
March 28 oral arguments may signal ruling on Wisconsin’s gerrymandered districts.
It’s a big question:
Did a U.S. Supreme Court order that told Pennsylvania legislators to immediately redraw the districts of U.S. House members signal how the Court would rule in the challenge to Wisconsin Assembly districts?
No, according to attorneys on both sides of the Wisconsin case.
But, they add, a redistricting case from Maryland that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear March 28 may offer the next clue to how the court rules in the Wisconsin case.
WILL filed a legal brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Assembly districts Republicans drew in 2011. The boundaries of three Assembly districts form one state Senate district.
Individuals and groups who sued to void those districts argued that they were illegally stacked in favor of Republicans, who began the 2017-18 session with 64 seats in the 99-member Assembly.
But the Pennsylvania case will have “no bearing” on the Supreme Court’s decision in the Wisconsin case, agreed Doug Poland, one of the attorneys who asked the court to adopt a new standard that voids legislative districts blatantly drawn to favor one party or the other.
Federal judges agreed with the arguments of Poland and others, prompting the U.S. Supreme Court to accept the Wisconsin case. Oral arguments were held in October.
The Pennsylvania case is intriguing because it also involved districts – for Pennsylvania’s 19 U.S. House seats – drawn by Republican legislators. And, in an order issued by Justice Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court let stand a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling telling Republicans to immediately draw new districts for primary elections only weeks away.
But Esenberg and Poland say the Pennsylvania case turned on that state’s high court and its interpretation of the tate constitution – a much different question than the issue posed by the Wisconsin case.
“State supreme courts are the final arbiters of what state law means and requires,” Esenberg said. “Whatever limits are found in Pennsylvania’s constitution wouldn’t apply in any other state.”
The Wisconsin case involves “an entirely different law” than the Pennsylvania controversy, Poland said. “We’ll see how the argument goes in Benisek on March 28, and then we’ll just have to wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling,” he added.
In the Maryland case – Benisek vs. Lamone – the Supreme Court will decide whether Democratic legislators illegally redrew the boundaries of a U.S House district to make a Democratic victory likely.
Democratic legislators “reshuffled fully half of the district’s 720,000 residents — far more than necessary to correct the mere 10,000-person imbalance in the district’s population following the 2010 census,” a lawyer for Maryland Republicans argued.
According to the Washington Post, that change “resulted in a more than 90,000-voter swing in favor of Democrats, and the share of registered Republicans fell from 47% to 33%.”
“No other congressional district anywhere in the nation saw so large a swing in its partisan complexion following the 2010 census,” the lawyer for Maryland Republicans added.
Esenberg said scholars disagree on why the Supreme Court took the Maryland case before deciding the Wisconsin one.
“One theory is that they took Benisek because they could adopt a narrower rule that warrants more limited judicial evaluation of map drawing,” Esenberg said. “If that’s so, it signals that the [Wisconsin case] plaintiffs in might lose.’
But another theory, he noted, “is that they want to ding both Democratic and Republican gerrymandering.”
The Maryland case also would give the Supreme Court a way to punish “First Amendment retaliation” – the idea that party leaders draw new district lines to punish voters for electing members of the opposing party, Esenberg noted.
On March 28, when the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the Maryland case, “I am sure that everyone will be parsing what the justices say and trying to decide what it signals for” the Wisconsin case, Esenberg added.
If the Supreme Court ordered new Wisconsin districts to be drawn, must they be in place for Nov. 6 elections? The deadline for candidates to file petitions to run in those districts is June 1, which would give candidates – and voters – only a few weeks to get to know each other.
More about the Gerrymandering of Legislative Districts
- Data Wonk: Many Republicans Oppose Gerrymandering - Bruce Thompson - Mar 14th, 2018
- The State of Politics: Will U.S. Supremes Rule on State Districts? - Steven Walters - Feb 19th, 2018
- Back in the News: Majority Now Backs Fair Redistricting - Bruce Murphy - Feb 5th, 2018
- Data Wonk: John Roberts’ Nightmare - Bruce Thompson - Oct 11th, 2017
- The State of Politics: You Be The Judge on Redistricting - Steven Walters - Oct 2nd, 2017
- Op Ed: U.S. Supreme Court Should End Partisan Gerrymandering - Andrea Kaminski - Sep 26th, 2017
- Data Wonk: Judges Consider a Democratic Gerrymander - Bruce Thompson - Aug 30th, 2017
- Op Ed: 24 Counties Have Voted for Fair Maps - Matt Rothschild - Aug 25th, 2017
- Data Wonk: Right Wing Seeks to End Democracy? - Bruce Thompson - Aug 23rd, 2017
- Data Wonk: US Supreme Court Wrong on Redistricting? - Bruce Thompson - May 31st, 2017
- Op Ed: Save Taxes With Nonpartisan Redistricting - Andrea Kaminski and Lindsay Dorff - May 26th, 2017
- Data Wonk: Why GOP Backs Gerrymander - Bruce Thompson - May 24th, 2017
- Data Wonk: State’s Political Map At Issue - Bruce Thompson - May 18th, 2017
- Rep. Peter Barca Statement on Attorney General Appeal of Redistricting Decision - State Rep. Peter Barca - Feb 24th, 2017
- Fair Elections Project calls upon Legislature to focus on fair map drawing process - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Feb 24th, 2017
- Campaign Cash: GOP’s Redistricting Lawyers Are Big Donors - Matt Rothschild - Feb 6th, 2017
- Op Ed: Reject Partisanship, Redraw Voting Maps - Andrea Kaminski - Feb 3rd, 2017
- Rep. Peter Barca Statement on Assembly Organization Committee Secret Ballot - State Rep. Peter Barca - Feb 2nd, 2017
- Court Watch: Court’s Redistricting Order A Problem? - Bruce Thompson - Feb 1st, 2017
- Rep. Hesselbein Calls for Open, Transparent, and Public Process for Drawing New Legislative Lines - State Rep. Dianne Hesselbein - Jan 27th, 2017
- Wisconsin Federal Court Permanently Blocks State Redistricting Plan - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Jan 27th, 2017
- Data Wonk: 2016 Election Results Prove Gerrymandering - Bruce Thompson - Dec 28th, 2016
- Plaintiffs call for new maps for Wisconsin legislative district - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Dec 21st, 2016
- Data Wonk: Measuring Wisconsin’s Gerrymandering - Bruce Thompson - Dec 7th, 2016
- Sen. Taylor statement on federal court ruling against Republican gerrymandering - State Sen. Lena Taylor - Nov 21st, 2016
- Statement on Redistricting Ruling - State Sen. Chris Larson - Nov 21st, 2016
- Federal Court overturns unconstitutional gerrymandering of Wisconsin legislative districts - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Nov 21st, 2016
- Rep. Barca Statement on Redistricting Decision - State Rep. Peter Barca - Nov 21st, 2016
- HISTORIC DECISION: Wisconsin Federal Court Strikes Down Partisan Gerrymander and Adopts Groundbreaking Legal Standard - Campaign Legal Center - Nov 21st, 2016
- Murphy’s Law: The Myth of Democratic Gerrymandering - Bruce Murphy - Jan 26th, 2016
- Data Wonk: Can New Approach End Gerrymandering? - Bruce Thompson - Jan 6th, 2016
- Federal Lawsuit to Overturn Unconstitutional Gerrymandering of Wisconsin Legislative Districts Continues - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Dec 17th, 2015
- Can Auto Redistricting End Gerrymandering? - Laura Thompson - Dec 10th, 2015
- Assembly candidate Brostoff calls for non-partisan redistricting - State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff - Apr 17th, 2014
- Redistricting reform the antidote to Republican extremism - Press Release - Nov 13th, 2013
- Lazich, August, Fitzgerald and Vos Still Silent on Redistricting Reform Public Hearings As Support & Pressure Builds - Common Cause in Wisconsin - Sep 17th, 2013
- Freshmen legislators push new legislation to correct flawed partisan redistricting process - Press Release - Apr 11th, 2013