Democrats and Republicans are poised for a Supreme Court fight about political line-drawing with the potential to alter the balance of power across a country starkly divided between the two parties. The big question at the heart of next week’s high court clash is whether there can be too much politics in the inherently political task of drawing electoral districts. The Supreme Court has never struck down a districting plan because it was too political. The test case comes from Wisconsin, where Democratic voters sued after Republicans drew political maps in 2011 that entrenched their hold on power in a state that is essentially evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. “It could portend massive changes in our electoral system,” Washington lawyer Christopher Landau said, if the court for the first time imposes limits on extreme partisan gerrymandering, or redistricting. Courts have struck down racially discriminatory maps for decades.
Wisconsin Republicans controlled the redistricting process that followed the once-every-decade census because they held the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature. They worked in secret to fashion precise, computer-generated maps and won approval on a party-line vote.
The results in three elections held under those maps have almost perfectly aligned with their predictions, even in 2012, when Democratic President Barack Obama carried the state. Democratic legislative candidates won a majority of the vote statewide then, but wound up as the minority party in the State Assembly.
“I don’t want anybody, any party, to be in full control,” said Emily Bunting, an organic farmer from western Wisconsin who joined the lawsuit. “I want fair elections, is what I want. I don’t think a Democratic gerrymander is any better than a Republican one. I think that issue needs to be addressed.”