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Supreme Court to Review Wisconsin Gerrymandering Case

By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 19, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In a case that could affect elections nationwide, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a gerrymandering decision from Wisconsin.

All legislatures draw voting districts to favor the incumbent party, but the court will decide how far they can go in drawing maps along party lines. In Gill v. Whitford, a federal court panel said Republican lawmakers had unlawfully drawn state assembly maps to keep Democrats from securing legislative seats.

While agreeing to review that decision, the Supreme Court also stayed the lower court's order to re-draw the maps while the appeal is pending.

"A Blockbuster"

Court watchers anticipate the case will birth the most important decision on elections in years. It could change how state and congressional districts are drawn throughout the country, and thus change who controls state legislatures and Congress.

"This is a blockbuster," said Joshua Douglas, a University of Kentucky College of Law professor and co-editor of the book "Election Law Stories." "This could become the most important election law case in years if not decades."

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, a Republican, said he was "thrilled" the Supreme Court granted his request to review the decision. He claims the redistricting process was "entirely lawful and constitutional."

Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, which launched the lawsuit against the redistricting map, said that two federal courts had found it was unconstitutional. "Now this story will be told on a national stage," she said.


The Supreme Court recently decided another gerrymandering case from North Carolina. There, the court struck down congressional boundaries that discriminated against African American voters.

"The Constitution entrusts states with the job of designing congressional districts," Justice Elena Kagan wrote in Cooper v. Harris. "But it also imposes an important constraint: A state may not use race as the predominant factor in drawing district lines unless it has a compelling reason."

In the Wisconsin, Republics have controlled the government since the legislative boundaries were drawn in 2011. The judges in the case said the assembly districts were unconstitutional because they "intended to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters ... by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats."

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case in the fall.

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