The United States Supreme Court granted a hearing Monday that will decide if Wisconsin Republicans acted unconstitutionally when drawing their legislative voting districts in 2011.
The case, Gill v. Whitford, will decide whether or not the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause was violated in 2011 by favoring Republican voting districts, also known as partisan gerrymandering.
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Here is everything you need to know about the upcoming case:
What is partisan gerrymandering?
Every decade, politicians redraw voting boundaries in order to compensate for population fluxes.
Partisan gerrymandering occurs when state lawmakers draw the boundaries of electoral districts in a way that gives one party an unfair advantage over other parties.
By redrawing the district lines to favor Republicans, Democrats argued the voting rights of Democrats were compromised in the 2011 elections.
What was the original outcome of the Gill v. Whitford case?
Republicans received over 48 percent of the vote for Assembly candidates in 2012, but took 60 seats of the 99 seats. In 2014, they received 52 percent of the vote in 2014, but only took 63 seats.
“The evidence further makes clear that, although Wisconsin’s natural political geography plays some role in the apportionment process, it simply does not explain adequately the sizeable disparate effect seen in 2012 and 2014 under [the redistricting],” judges wrote in the ruling.
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After ruling the Republicans’ redistricting plans “unconstitutionally gerrymandered” to expand their majority and was not representative of legitimate state interests, the judges ordered state lawmakers to update the maps by November 2017.
But, this order has now been postponed as SCOTUS has granted Wisconsin GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel’s appeal to hold arguments for the case.
SCOTUS granted Schimel’s application for a block on the requirements set forth by the state regarding the inception of new maps by November in a vote of 5-4, according to a statement released by Schimel’s office.
How have Wisconsin legislators, officials reacted?
Schimel, who applied for the appeal, along with his Republican colleagues, have praised the SCOTUS decision to hear the case.
“I am thrilled the Supreme Court has granted our request to review the redistricting decision and that Wisconsin will have an opportunity to defend its redistricting process, Schimel said in the statement. “As I have said before, our redistricting process was entirely lawful and constitutional, and the district court should be reversed.”
In the same vein, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he is confident SCOTUS will find Wisconsin’s redistricting process acted within legal reason.
— Speaker Robin Vos (@SpeakerVos) June 19, 2017
Despite the possibility of SCOTUS reversing the 2-1 decision, some Wisconsin Democrats, such as Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Martha Laning, remain confident the 2011 legislative maps will be declared unconsitutional by SCOTUS and “electoral fairness will be restored in Wisconsin.”
In addition, a ruling in the Democrats’ favor could possibly set a precedent to end extreme partisan gerrymandering, Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said in a statement.
“Rather than redraw the maps like the court ordered, Wisconsin Republicans continue to waste taxpayer dollars on very expensive private attorneys to fight these unconstitutional maps,” Barca said. “I have faith that the Supreme Court will do the right thing to help end the terrible polarization we see in both Wisconsin and across America.”
What are some of the potential outcomes?
University of Wisconsin political science professor and SCOTUS expert, Ryan Owens said the grant of stay, requested by Schimel, makes it more likely that SCOTUS will reverse the lower court’s decision, thus ruling in the favor of Wisconsin Republicans.
Owens also said SCOTUS could find Gill v. Whitman nonjusticiable, or an issue which is so ridden with political connotations and a lack of definable standards that the courts have no business in it. If this is the case, SCOTUS would nullify the lower court’s decision.
“The best possible outcome of this case, for the Democrats, is that SCOTUS grants review of the case, reverses the lower court’s decision and adopts a different standard by which to monitor the redistricting process within the state for the lower court system to reevaluate,” Owens said.
The case is expected to be scheduled for oral argument during the term which begins in October.