The Gerrymander Wars March On
Wisconsin Republicans strategy is to support Maryland gerrymander that hurts GOP voters.
Two gerrymandering lawsuits are set for argument before the US Supreme Court on March 26. While neither directly involves the Wisconsin gerrymander, there are strong Wisconsin strains running through each of them. The court’s decisions in these cases is likely to heavily influence the outcome in the Wisconsin challenge. The court’s earlier non-decision in the Wisconsin case will heavily influence those who will argue these two cases. Finally, many of the characters who played parts in the Wisconsin case reappear in the new cases.
One of the cases, Rucho v Common Cause, involves a challenge to a Republican gerrymander of all North Carolina seats in the US House of Representatives. A three-judge panel of federal judges ruled against the gerrymander. That decision was appealed to the Supreme Court.
In Maryland, only one US House seat, the 6th, was challenged. In that case, Lamone v Benisek, a Democratic gerrymander successfully converted that district from Republican to Democratic, turning the whole Maryland delegation into Democrats.
Rucho and Lamone are state officials, charged in their official capacity with defending their state’s gerrymander. Common Cause is among several organizations that challenged the North Carolina redistricting.
Benisek is one of several Republican voters living in Maryland’s 6th district. As he explains:
State officials responsible for Maryland’s 2011 congressional redistricting targeted plaintiffs and other like-minded voters for disfavored treatment because of their past support for Republican candidates for public office. These officials’ aims were achieved: the weight of Republicans’ votes in Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District was severely diluted and Republicans’ associational activities were significantly disrupted as a result of the gerrymander.
The map below shows the gerrymandered 6th district. Most of the district is western Maryland, squeezed between the Potomac River on the south and the Mason-Dixon line on the north that separates Maryland from Pennsylvania. Switching the district from red to blue consisted of adding the mostly Democratic appendage on the southeast which extended the district into the Washington metro area. The mostly Republican voters to the north of that were added to a safely Democratic district.
This is hardly the ugliest or most bizarrely creative Maryland Congressional district. A look at a map of Maryland congressional districts is proof that Democrats are no slouches at gerrymandering when they set their minds to it. For example, consider the 3rd District:
The 3rd District is represented by John Sarbanes, who is listed as the principal author of HR 1, the “For the People Act of 2019,” which, among other provisions, contains the “Redistricting Reform Act of 2019,” which would require that Congressional redistricting be conducted by independent redistricting commissions. HR 1 was passed by the Democratically controlled US House and sent to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised to kill it.
Further evidence for the increasing toxicity of partisan gerrymandering is contained in the distribution of “amici” briefs, briefs from outside groups and individuals who hope to influence the court’s decision. Here are links to the North Carolina briefs and the Maryland briefs.
The amici briefs state at the top whether they support one of the two parties to the case. The party appealing the lower court’s decision against gerrymandering are called “appellants,” while those arguing that the Supreme Court uphold the lower court are “appellees.” In other words, amici briefs in favor of appellants support gerrymanders; those for appellees oppose the gerrymander.
As the next chart shows, the anti-gerrymander position is far more popular than the pro-gerrymander side. Almost everyone — 47 different individuals or organizations — wants to beat the gerrymander to death, compared to just 10 defending it. The amici briefs come not only from the usual constitutional lawyers, but include mathematicians and experts in big data aiming to reassure the justices that measuring gerrymanders is very doable. Historians discuss the concern the founders had about officials entrenching themselves. Also represented are legislators (mostly retired in the case of Republicans) warning that gerrymanders increase polarization.
By contrast, the pro-gerrymander amici mostly come from people with a stake in the outcome: legislators who might lose their job or Republican operatives. In the Maryland case, there are only two amici supporting the gerrymander. One is from the six-district Democratic Congressman who nonetheless assures the court he is no supporter of gerrymanders as evidenced by his sponsorship of the For the People Act.
The other comes from the Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly whose Republican leadership shows no reluctance to throw the Maryland 6th District Republicans under the bus. Except for its label, their brief supporting the Maryland gerrymander is Identical to that for the North Carolina gerrymander.
In their brief, our Wisconsin legislators make several arguments. The first is that the apparent “cracking” and “packing” is the innocent result of demographics—it is the fault of Democrats for clustering in cities. The success of this argument assumes an extraordinary gullibility by the justices. Whatever the effect of demographic patterns, the authors of redistricting in all three states went well beyond what was needed to meet the traditional standards for redistricting to assure continued domination for their side.
Our Wisconsin legislators also point to the 2018 Wisconsin election results to argue that gerrymandering does not matter because Republican voters may become Democrats and vice versa: “Partisanship is not an immutable characteristic.” In support of this argument, they point to the districts, shown below, that both Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and the Assembly Republican candidate won.
But this pattern is not new — in both 2008 and 2012 Obama ran well ahead of most Democratic Assembly candidates — and proves nothing. Designers of guaranteed Republican congressional, senate and assembly seats can go about their business with little worry that gerrymandered districts will become suddenly unstuck.
The race for Wisconsin’s governor was a much better predictor of district outcomes than was the race for US senate. As the next graph shows, only one assembly district, the 94th, that Evers lost was won by the Democratic Assembly candidate.
Another state connection to national gerrymandering battle is Misha Tseytlin, Wisconsin’s former Solicitor General, who was hired by Republican members of the North Carolina congressional delegation to write an amicus brief in support of the gerrymander. His main interest is challenging the claim that the federal courts are the “only institution in the United States capable of solving the” problem of too much politics in the redistricting process.
Tseytlin summarizes some of the efforts of 19th century congresses to limit state efforts to gain partisan advantage through redistricting, noting that most were allowed to lapse in the 20th century. I found his summary of 250 years of efforts to stifle gerrymandering profoundly depressing. After all those attempts, we are still confronted by politicians scheming to entrench themselves in power.
Tseytlin asserts that “Congress and the states have the authority to decide the proper role that political considerations should play in the redistricting process.” The issue, however, is not whether Congress and state legislatures have the authority to solve the threat to democracy posed by gerrymandering. They plainly do. The relevant question is whether they can be trusted to overcome the conflict of interest they are faced with. Wisconsin’s legislature proves that partisan advantage often trumps a commitment to democracy.
More about the Gerrymandering of Legislative Districts
- Op Ed: The Game is Rigged in Wisconsin - Spencer Black - Jul 21st, 2019
- Gerrymandering Foes Push Reform - Erik Gunn - Jul 17th, 2019
- Rep. Robyn Vining Continues Fight for Fair Maps - State Rep. Robyn Vining - Jul 16th, 2019
- Statement on Nonpartisan Redistricting Reform Bill - State Rep. Lisa Subeck - Jul 16th, 2019
- Gerrymandering Bill is Bipartisan - Laurel White - Jul 12th, 2019
- Op Ed: Redistricting Now Up to Citizen Action - Jay Heck - Jul 2nd, 2019
- Rep. Robyn Vining Says Fight for Fair Maps Is Not Over - State Rep. Robyn Vining - Jun 28th, 2019
- U.S. Supreme Court Allows Gerrymandering - Laurel White - Jun 28th, 2019
- Statement on U.S. Supreme Court decision on Partisan Gerrymandering - Fair Elections Project - Jun 27th, 2019
- Waupaca County Opposes Gerrymandering - Matt Rothschild - Apr 29th, 2019
- 45 Counties Want to Ban Gerrymandering - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - Apr 19th, 2019
- Data Wonk: Walker Seeks to Gerrymander America - Bruce Thompson - Apr 3rd, 2019
- Murphy’s Law: The Arrogance of Robin Vos - Bruce Murphy - Mar 21st, 2019
- Data Wonk: The Gerrymander Wars March On - Bruce Thompson - Mar 20th, 2019
- The State of Politics: How Evers Would End Gerrymandering - Steven Walters - Mar 18th, 2019
- Evers’ Budget Will Include Nonpartisan Redistricting Process - Shawn Johnson - Feb 27th, 2019
- Representative Subeck Applauds Governor Evers’ Plan to Ensure Fair Election Maps - State Rep. Lisa Subeck - Feb 26th, 2019
- Rep. Hesselbein Supports Governor Evers’ Fair Maps Plan - State Rep. Dianne Hesselbein - Feb 26th, 2019
- Rep. Spreitzer Supports Gov. Evers’s Redistricting Reform - State Rep. Mark Spreitzer - Feb 26th, 2019
- Statement on Governor Evers’ announcement he will include nonpartisan redistricting reform in his proposed budget - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Feb 26th, 2019
- Rep. Robyn Vining Embraces Gov. Evers’ Inclusion of Redistricting in Budget - State Rep. Robyn Vining - Feb 26th, 2019
- Op Ed: Why We Oppose Gerrymandering - Andrea Kaminski - Feb 20th, 2019
- Murphy’s Law: Republicans Oppose Gerrymandering - Bruce Murphy - Jan 29th, 2019
- Op Ed: Gerrymandering Costs Taxpayers Millions - James Rowen - Jan 23rd, 2019
- Data Wonk: Gerrymander is Alive and Well - Bruce Thompson - Dec 12th, 2018
- Board Adopts Supervisor Moore Omokunde Proposal to Decriminalize Marijuana - Sup. Supreme Moore Omokunde - Nov 6th, 2018
- Murphy’s Law: The Fight Against Gerrymandering - Bruce Murphy - Oct 30th, 2018
- Democrats Refile Redistricting Suit - Shawn Johnson - Sep 16th, 2018
- Amended Whitford Complaint Highlights Harm Caused by Wisconsin’s Partisan Gerrymander to 40 Plaintiffs Across 34 Districts - Campaign Legal Center - Sep 14th, 2018
- The State of Wasted Votes - Malia Jones - Jul 2nd, 2018
- Data Wonk: Can Democrats Still Contest Gerrymander? - Bruce Thompson - Jun 27th, 2018
- The State of Politics: Democrats Rejected Redistricting Reform - Steven Walters - Jun 25th, 2018
- Supreme Court Punts on Gerrymandering - Shawn Johnson - Jun 18th, 2018
- Republican State Leadership Committee: The Efficiency Gap is “Sociological Gobbledygook” - Republican State Leadership Committee - Jun 18th, 2018
- Response to Gill v Whitford decision to remand back to trial court - Fair Elections Project - Jun 18th, 2018
- The Art Of Gerrymandering Milwaukee - Malia Jones - Jun 9th, 2018
- The Push for Nonpartisan Redistricting - Cathleen Draper - Jun 5th, 2018
- U.S. Supreme Court Nears Decision on Wisconsin Redistricting Case - Cathleen Draper - Jun 2nd, 2018
- 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