Wisconsin Maps Go To SCOTUS

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By Charles Collier, The Denmark News

On Monday, June 19 the Supreme Court of the United States announced it will hear arguments over Wisconsin’s voting district maps. The current maps used to decide state legislators have been in effect since 2011 and were drawn by the Republican majority after the 2010 Census. This process—the majority party having authority over redistricting—is standard Wisconsin law.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in November ruled the maps unconstitutional and in his decision Judge Kenneth Ripple wrote, “secured Republican control of the Assembly under any likely future electoral scenario for the remainder of the decade, in other words to entrench the Republican Party in power.”

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel in May asked SCOTUS to put on hold the Seventh Circuit’s ruling which required Republican lawmakers to re-draw the maps by this November in preparation for 2018 elections.

“The stay is particularly important because it preserves the Legislature’s time, effort, and resources while this case is pending. In our stay application, I argued that requiring the Legislature to re-draw district maps this year would have been a waste of resources,” Schimel said in a statement.

SCOTUS’ stay on the lower court’s ruling has been hinted by some as an indication that the decision of unconstitutionality will be reversed but Paul Smith, who will be arguing against the maps with the Campaign Legal Center does not see the stay as a dead end for his case.

“We’re hopeful because we’re going to provide the court with clear quantitative measures … that the court can use to evaluate when a map is overwhelmingly skewed and goes across the line,” Smith said.

Those quantitative measures—deviating from qualitative ones which tend to imagine alternate election scenarios to argue unfairness in previous Supreme Court gerrymandering cases—have been influenced heavily by the emergence of the, “efficiency gap” conceived by two law professors in 2014.

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Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Nicholas Stephanopoulos was one of the minds behind the efficiency gap and has called political gerrymandering, “a pernicious practice that is threatening basic democratic norms,” and noted in his analysis of the Wisconsin maps that they are, “the most biased and distorted in modern American history.”

“…the easiest way to prevent redistricting from turning into gerrymandering is to give the power to draw district lines to a neutral commission. And many states in the U.S. already do that. Basically all foreign countries that have a similar system to ours also don’t let sitting politicians design their own districts.” Stephanopolous said in an interview with National Public Radio.

Rep. Mike Gallagher has already indirectly supported the Chicago professor on this point. With California’s Ro Khanna, Gallagher released an op-ed outlining freshman representatives’ efforts to introduce, “real change” in a system built to resist it. Along with proposed term limit legislation and a five-year ban from lobbying for former officeholders, Gallagher and Khanna cite nonpartisan redistricting as, “essential to ensure politicians aren’t allowed to gerrymander their districts and choose their own voters. The less competitive a district becomes, the more general elections become formalities.”

Governor Scott Walker, who has been in the middle of the partisan heat as the state’s executive since 2010 said on Monday, “The maps were in place and Republicans gained seats in ’12, ’14, and ’16. If your argument is the maps are unfair, it should only happen once. The reason they’ve won and added seats in the legislature is because common-sense, conservative reforms work.”

In 2012, Republicans won 48.6% of the two-party vote but won 61% of the seats in the State Assembly in a general election where Republican Mitt Romney lost the state to Democrat Barack Obama by seven points. Last fall when Wisconsin’s electoral college votes were decided by less than a single point in an election of waning split-tickets, yet Republicans carried 64 of the state’s 99 assembly districts.

While the first indicators of the case seem to be influenced by partisanship (the motion to stay redrawing the maps was made on a 5-4 party line vote,) oral arguments will be made between November and December with a final decision expected from SCOTUS in the spring or summer of 2018. This timeline would not allow any redrawing of the maps prior to the next elections, yet a decision siding with claims of partisan gerrymandering could drastically affect election standards nationwide for the foreseeable future.