In a move that has the potential to "set a landmark precedent," the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday announced it will hear a Wisconsin gerrymandering case alleging the Republican-controlled legislature drew congressional disticts in a way that illegally discriminates against Democratic candidates and voters.
"This is a historic opportunity to address one of the biggest problems facing our electoral system."
—Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center for Justice's Democracy Program
The plaintiffs in the case—a dozen Wisconsin residents—argue "Republican legislative leaders authorized a secretive and exclusionary mapmaking process aimed at securing for their party a large advantage that would persist no matter what happened in future elections."
Recent high-profile gerrymandering cases have focused primarily on the racial impact of redistricting. In May, the Supreme Court deemed North Carolina's map unconstitutional on the grounds that district lines were drawn with the intention of "reducing the voting power of minorities," as Mother Jones put it.
SCOTUS has struck down racial gerrymandering but not partisan gerrymandering. That could change next term https://t.co/Tcun1IvJ9o
— Ari Berman (@AriBerman) June 19, 2017
SCOTUS has never before invalidated a map for partisan gerrymandering. A successful challenge could lead to a wave of lawsuits nationally https://t.co/hwqe8L7f03
— Stephen Wolf (@PoliticsWolf) June 19, 2017
Given the impact gerrymandering has had on recent elections, the Wisconsin case is being hailed as potentially "revolutionary," one that could have "massive implications for redistricting and political power in America."
Last November, a panel of federal judges ruled 2-1 that Wisconsin Republicans in 2011 designed the congressional map to "make it more difficult for Democrats, compared to Republicans, to translate their votes into seats." Given the Supreme Court's decision to take on the case, the judges' ruling could reverberate nationally.
"Both parties draw congressional and legislative districts to their own advantage," the Washington Post's Robert Barnes notes. "But Republicans have more to lose because they control so many more state legislatures."
Voter advocacy groups, which have long denounced GOP-drawn congressional districts as discriminatory and blatantly undemocratic, were quick to celebrate the Supreme Court's move.
"For too long, the important task of redistricting has resembled a back-alley brawl: no rules, no referees, and no holds barred," Dan Vicuña, the national redistricting manager for Common Cause, said in a statement. "Technology has made it easier than ever for self-interested legislators to manipulate districts for political advantage, so it is essential that courts step in to protect voters' fundamental constitutional rights."
Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, added that gerrymandering "drive[s] too many Americans from our democratic process because citizens feel their votes don't count and sadly in states like Wisconsin and North Carolina today many of those citizens are absolutely right."
"Politicians should not be choosing their voters, voters should be choosing their politicians," she concluded.
Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center for Justice's Democracy Program, also applauded the Supreme Court's announcement on Monday, calling it "a historic opportunity to address one of the biggest problems facing our electoral system."
"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," she said.