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SCOTUS Set To Hear First Partisan Gerrymandering Case in a Decade

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will hear oral argument this fall in Gill v. Whitford, offering the Justices their first opportunity in more than a decade to weigh in on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering.

June 19, 2017

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will hear oral argu­ment this fall in Gill v. Whit­ford, offer­ing the Justices their first oppor­tun­ity in more than a decade to weigh in on the consti­tu­tion­al­ity of partisan gerry­man­der­ing. The case could impact congres­sional maps in around half a dozen states and legis­lat­ive maps in about ten states and have major implic­a­tions for the next round of redis­trict­ing after the 2020 Census.

The highly anti­cip­ated case stems from a 2016 ruling by a three-judge federal panel that struck down the Wiscon­sin’s 2011 state assembly plan as an uncon­sti­tu­tional partisan gerry­mander that viol­ated both the First and Four­teenth Amend­ments. The panel’s decision marked the first time in more than three decades that a federal court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a partisan-gerry­man­der­ing suit follow­ing a full trial.

“Wiscon­sin’s gerry­mander was one of the most aggress­ive of the decade, lock­ing in a large and implaus­ibly stable major­ity for Repub­lic­ans in what is other­wise a battle­ground state,” said Thomas Wolf, redis­trict­ing coun­sel at the Bren­nan Center for Justice. “It’s a symp­tom of polit­ics going haywire and some­thing that we increas­ingly see when one party has sole control of the redis­trict­ing process.”

Wiscon­sin’s maps reli­ably delivered massive Repub­lican major­it­ies. In 2012, Repub­lic­ans won 60 of the 99 seats in the Wiscon­sin Assembly despite winning only 48.6% of the two-party state-wide vote; in 2014, they won 63 seats with only 52% of the state-wide vote. The court concluded that the distri­bu­tions of Demo­crat and Repub­lican voters through­out the state are not respons­ible for the Repub­lican Party’s elect­oral advant­age.

The Supreme Court has considered partisan gerry­man­der­ing in the past, but the Justices failed to agree on a stand­ard for poli­cing abuses when the issue was last before them in the early 2000s. Whit­ford gives the Court its first look at the issue since then and an oppor­tun­ity to finally set some limits on excess­ive partis­an­ship in redis­trict­ing.

 “Whit­ford comes at a crit­ical junc­ture. Having a remedy for partisan gerry­man­der­ing is very import­ant, espe­cially in the South where race and polit­ics are increas­ingly joined at the hip,” said Michael Li senior coun­sel in the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Program, “A rule against partisan gerry­man­der­ing will have a major impact for communit­ies of color, where partis­an­ship unfor­tu­nately has often been used as an excuse for actions that hurt minor­it­ies.”

“This is a historic oppor­tun­ity to address one of the biggest prob­lems facing our elect­oral system,” said Wendy Weiser director of the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Program, “Gerry­man­der­ing has become so aggress­ive, extreme, and effect­ive that there is an urgent need for the Supreme Court to finally step in and set bound­ar­ies.”

Read more about redis­trict­ing and Gill v. Whit­ford.

To sched­ule an inter­view with our experts please contact Blaire Perel at perel­b@bren­nan.law.nyu.edu or (646) 925–8734.