Supreme Court Punts on Partisan Gerrymandering Case

By: - June 19, 2018 12:00 am

Legislators in North Carolina review old legislative maps. The state is one of many where the boundaries of political districts have been questioned. Corey Lowenstein/The News & Observer, via AP

The Supreme Court declined to decide on a Wisconsin case that many hoped would end partisan gerrymandering.

The challenge centered on a 2010 map that Democrats argued gave Republicans an extreme political advantage in state legislative elections.

The justices said the plaintiffs in the case, led by a retired law professor, had not proved sufficient injury to have standing to sue and remanded the case back to a lower court.

The high court has frequently struck down maps that were deemed to be cases of racial gerrymandering. Justice Anthony Kennedy in a 2004 case wrote that plaintiffs had never presented a clear standard that could be used to decide when political gerrymandering was unconstitutional.

The Wisconsin plaintiffs hoped to do just that. Relying on a system developed by University of Chicago professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos, the test would score maps based on an “efficiency gap” relying in part on the number of votes “wasted” by the winning party — votes received beyond the 50 percent needed to win each district. 

Of the more than 800 maps reviewed by Stephanopoulos, Wisconsin’s challenged voting district plan ranked 28th, making it one of the most gerrymandered plans in modern history. 

The case now returns to a lower court where the dozen plaintiffs are tasked with showing they have support in each of the 99 challenged districts.  

The decision represents a setback for those hoping to limit political influence in drawing maps. Many advocates for reducing that influence, including former Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, have advocated for independent redistricting commissions.

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Rebecca Beitsch

Rebecca Beitsch writes about energy and the environment for Stateline. She covered state government in Missouri and North Dakota, writing about politics and policy for NewsRadio KMOX, the Columbia Missourian and the Bismarck Tribune.