Gill v. Whitford
WISCONSIN’S PARTISAN GERRYMANDER
Partisan gerrymandering, or the drawing of electoral district lines to benefit one political party, is a serious problem in our democracy. In jurisdictions nationwide, legislators have drawn legislative maps so that they can choose their voters, instead of voters being able to choose their representatives. In 2011, Republican legislators in Wisconsin redrew the state Assembly districts to maintain Republican control. They did this in a secret office – away from the Capitol, the public, and the press – and then rushed the passage of their plan through the Assembly. Their strategy paid off, with Republicans gaining 60 percent of the seats in the State Assembly, despite receiving only 49 percent of the statewide vote in 2012.
THE INCREASING NEED FOR A LEGAL STANDARD
It’s clear the current redistricting process is undermining our democracy and partisan gerrymandering has become the political weapon of choice for legislators to maintain political power. The U.S. Supreme Court held that it has the authority and responsibility to decide partisan gerrymandering claims, and in 2006, all nine justices agreed that excessive partisan gerrymandering violates the Constitution.
However, the Court has yet to adopt a standard for determining whether a redistricting plan constitutes a partisan gerrymander. Every proposed test to date has been deemed unworkable by the courts – too ambiguous and subjective to reliably identify the most objectionable plans. Without a legal standard, voters are free to challenge politically motivated maps in court, but judges, without clear guidance, ordinarily dismiss these cases out of hand. The result is voters, like those in Wisconsin, are unable to hold their representatives accountable and reign in extreme partisan gerrymanders.
A LEGAL CHALLENGE TO STOP PARTISAN GERRYMANDERS NATIONWIDE
The Campaign Legal Center is part of a litigation team representing 12 Wisconsin voters who have challenged the state’s Assembly district lines as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander in Whitford v. Gill. Our case is the first purely partisan gerrymandering case to go to trial in 30 years. Through this litigation, the plaintiffs seek to establish for the first time a manageable standard by which courts nationwide can analyze partisan gerrymandering claims.
VICTORY IN DISTRICT COURT
On November 21, 2016, a three-judge panel in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin struck down Wisconsin’s state assembly district map. With this decision, plaintiffs have successfully alleged and proven that a state legislative redistricting plan is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander for the first time in 30 years.
The ruling issued by the court stated the following:
“We find that Act 43 was intended to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters throughout the decennial period by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats. Moreover, as demonstrated by the results of the 2012 and 2014 elections, among other evidence, we conclude that Act 43 has had its intended effect.”
The parties have 30 days to submit their proposals for the nature and timing of the remedial process. The plaintiffs’ three-part test, which was adopted in this case, can now be used across the country to fight back against unfair partisan gerrymandering.
Read our one pager about the case
Partisan gerrymandering is increasingly becoming the political weapon of choice for legislators to maintain power. Currently, politicians are allowed to choose their own voters and draw voting maps that are self-serving, at the expense of American voters and our democracy as a whole. The practice is to blame for Americans’ distrust in our government, and a significant reason for the hyper-partisanship and political gridlock we currently see in state and federal politics.
Make Democracy Count details how partisan gerrymandering creates an unrepresentative and unfair democracy and encourages self-interested politics. The report also showcases the toll this undemocratic practice has on real voters.
In addition, CLC’s report explains the efficiency gap, a solution for measuring partisan effects put forward in the case, Whitford v. Gill.