High court to consider whether excessive partisan gerrymandering violates constitution
The Supreme Court in Washington. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press
WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider whether there are constitutional limits to how far lawmakers can go in drawing electoral districts to maximize partisan political advantage, a case that could have profound implications for U.S. elections.
The justices in a brief written order said they would review a redistricting case from Wisconsin, where a three-judge lower court last year invalidated a redistricting planenacted by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature in 2011.
In a hint of the potential divisiveness of the case, the high court on a 5-4 vote stayed the effect of the lower court ruling while it hears the case. That means Wisconsin officials for now won’t have to put a remedial redistricting map in place.
The stay suggests the court is proceeding with some trepidation as it wades into a highly political issue that has bedeviled justices in the past. The court’s four liberal justices would have denied the stay and left in place the lower court’s order requiring a new map by Nov. 1.
Political gerrymanders are as old as the republic, though they have become more sophisticated as the technological possibilities of mapping have expanded with time. Both Republicans and Democrats have been accused of engaging in excessively partisan line-drawing in states where they hold power.
Critics say the tactic creates too many uncontested districts, encourages overly partisan candidates and enables the party in power to skew voting results in its favor.
Other cases are pending in court, including ones challenging Republican-backed lines drawn in North Carolina and map-making by Democrats in Maryland. Any rules announced by the high court would almost certainly affect districts drawn by state lawmakers both for Congress and for state legislatures.
Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the timing of the case was particularly important with a new census on the horizon in 2020. States traditionally redraw their congressional and legislative districts after each decennial census.