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Supreme Court To Hear Case That Could Set Seismic Precedent Against Gerrymandering

By Stephen Gossett in News on Jun 19, 2017 4:33PM

U.S. Supreme Court Justice / Getty Images / Photo: Alex Wong

In a case that could have monumental repercussions on the American political landscape, the Supreme Court announced on Wednesday that it would hear a Wisconsin gerrymandering case that could establish a standard for what constitutes unfair electoral maps.

Justices in the past have struck down electoral maps as illegal in the past. But those instances hinged on racial makeup of districts, whereas the Wisconsin case hinges more explicitly on partisan gerrymandering.

"Although a majority of the court has suggested that states can violate the Constitution if they draw legislative districts primarily to benefit one political party, the justices have never been able to identify the specific point at which states cross the constitutional line. In this case, a lower court held that Wisconsin had indeed crossed that line," Steve Vladeck, professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law, told CNN.

The original case, Gill v. Whitford , was prompted after GOP lawmakers in Wisconsin in 2010, having recently taken hold of both the state legislature and governorship, drew up their new hyper-partisan, gerrymandered State Assembly electoral map. As Daily Kos notes, the Wisconsin GOP took a sweeping majority in the Assembly in 2012 even though Obama carried the state by seven points and more total votes went to Democratic candidates for state-lawmaker offices that Republicans. A divided panel ruled that the maps violated the constitution.

“A federal three-judge panel rightfully held that Wisconsin lawmakers drew maps for the benefit of their own political party, with little regard for the will of the voters,” said Paul Smith, of Campaign Legal Center, who will argue the case at the Supreme Court, in a statement. “Partisan gerrymandering of this kind is worse now than at any time in recent memory. The Supreme Court has the opportunity to ensure the maps in Wisconsin are drawn fairly, and further, has the opportunity to create ground rules that safeguard every citizen’s right to freely choose their representatives.”

Former President Barack Obama has spoken out against the toxic effects of gerrymandered district maps. He's reportedly taking a more active role with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which advocates for redistricting reform amid what many view as lopsidedly partisan legislative maps.

The case will be argued in the term that begins in October.