Governing.com: Will the U.S. Supreme Court Take a Stand Against Partisan Gerrymandering?

Alan Greenblatt
Sep 13, 2017
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One of the most time-honored and criticized traditions in American politics is for the party in power to draw legislative districts in ways that help keep them in power. The U.S. Supreme Court, though, may soon outlaw at least the most blatant partisan gerrymandering.

On Oct. 3, the nation's highest court will hear oral arguments in a case challenging Wisconsin's state legislative districts. Plaintiffs complain that the map unfairly protects Republican lawmakers from partisan competition. A lower court agreed with that argument last November.

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The Supreme Court has said before that partisan gerrymandering can be unconstitutional, but basically it doesn't know how to tell when a plan goes too far," says Annabelle Harless, an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center, which is working with plaintiffs in the Wisconsin case. "They could adopt the test plaintiffs propose, they could in theory come up with their own standard, or they could say it's not justiciable [not an issue for courts to decide]."

Harless notes that the plaintiffs in Wisconsin didn't rely exclusively on the efficiency gap. They demonstrated that Wisconsin legislators acted with partisan intent, namely by unearthing emails that showed they were putting Democrats at a disadvantage. They also argued that the fact that Democrats tend to live in the state's major cities wasn't enough to justify the lopsided nature of the Assembly map.

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