The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that could spell the doom for redistricting efforts that aim to give one political party or the other an advantage.
These efforts, known as gerrymandering after the first American politician to employ such tactics, Elbridge Gerry, can produce election results that are wildly inconsistent with the actual majority will of the population.
For example, in Wisconsin, the state where the case just accepted by the Supreme Court was birthed, Republicans won 60 percent of the state assembly’s seats in a recent election, but they only got 48.6 percent of the statewide two party vote.
The case just accepted by the Supreme Court is an appeal from the state of Wisconsin of a lower court ruling that found Wisconsin’s 2011 redistricting plan to be unconstitutional. The ruling against the state has thus far been held up by both a federal district court in the state of Wisconsin and by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The aforementioned election, in which the proportion of state seats won by Republicans was significantly different from their proportion of the statewide vote, was in 2012.
The state’s 2011 gerrymandering efforts employed both “cracking” and “packing.” In the case of the former, districts are drawn in such a way so as to dilute the influence of a certain class of voters, while in the case of the latter, large numbers of a certain class of voters are “packed” into the same district.
Dan Vicuña, national redistricting manager of the liberal advocacy group Common Cause, commented on Monday’s announcement from the Supreme Court in a statement, saying:
‘For too long, the important task of redistricting has resembled a back-alley brawl: no rules, no referees, and no holds barred. 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.’
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled on a gerrymandering case, but that case dealt with racial minorities being unfairly impacted, not political parties. In the case from earlier this year, the Supreme Court sided with African American voters from North Carolina, who said their political influence was unfairly held back by state redistricting efforts.
This case gives the Supreme Court the opportunity to rule on an issue even more widely applicable than that of racially discriminatory redistricting. Quite frankly, not as many people are as brazen to attempt racially discriminatory gerrymandering as are brazen enough to attempt politically discriminatory gerrymandering.
Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law, told CNN that he believes that this case has the potential to shape up to be the most important case of its type taken up the Court in years, adding that it will likely have “enormous ramifications.”
‘The justices have never been able to identify the specific point at which states cross the constitutional line. In this case, a lower court held that Wisconsin had indeed crossed that line If the justices agree, it would be the first time the court has articulated a constitutional rule in this context, which… likely would… have enormous ramifications nationwide.’
Josh Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law who specializes in election law and voting rights, added:
‘This will be the biggest and most important election law case in decades. However the Court rules will affect elections for years to come.’
The court, at present, leans conservative due to the recent confirmation of Neil Gorsuch.
Featured Image via JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images.