Gerrymandering Case Reaches the Supreme Court

Gerrymandering is rigging the political process to allow the politicians to pick many of their voters, a reversal of what the actual order should be in a real democracy. The U.S. (and a lot of other countries for that matter) are better described as plutocracies than democracies though.


The legal scholars and voting-rights activists who brought the case, now dubbed Gill v. Whitford, have asserted that Wisconsin’s state Assembly and state Senate district maps were rigged by Governor Scott Walker’s hyper-partisan legislative allies to lock in the majorities they gained in the wave election of 2010. Republicans gerrymandered legislative district lines so aggressively that in the next election, even as Wisconsin Democrats won 174,000 more votes than Republicans in races for state Assembly seats, Republicans won a 60-39 majority in the chamber.

The democratic disconnect illustrated by those numbers has strengthened the argument that the gerrymandering of district lines denies voters their right to participate in fair and competitive elections. And jurists have begun to accept that something must be done to make elections more reflective of the popular will. As the lead plaintiff in the Wisconsin case, longtime University of Wisconsin law professor William Whitford, says: “In a democracy citizens are supposed to choose their legislators. In Wisconsin, legislators have chosen their voters.”

Last year, a three-judge federal-court panel declared that the Republican maps were unconstitutional because they violated the Equal Protection Clause and freedom-of-association rights that extend from the First Amendment. For the first time in more than three decades, a federal court had invalidated legislative district lines because of partisan bias. Whitford has described the panel’s decisions in the case as “truly historic,” and said they “could have a monumental impact in ensuring that voters’ voices are heard across the nation, regardless of party.”


Now the Wisconsin case comes before the US Supreme Court and, despite that court’s conservative bias in recent years on voting-rights matters, Whitford and others are hopeful for its prospects. Why? Because Justice Anthony Kennedy, the key swing vote on the high court, has in the past stated that “If courts refuse to entertain any claims of partisan gerrymandering, the temptation to use partisan favoritism in districting in an unconstitutional manner will grow.” If Kennedy sides with more liberal members of the court, a blow could be struck against gerrymandering—not just in Wisconsin but, via the respect-for-democracy standard that could be set, nationally.