The Supreme Court has officially agreed to hear a case with the potential to put firm limits on partisan gerrymandering — and dramatically change the way states draw legislative boundaries. The case, Gill v. Whitford, challenges the 2011 Wisconsin state assembly map. Those districts were drawn by the Republican state legislature in Wisconsin, and packed Democrats into a smaller number of districts to maximize Republican odds. The lawsuit argues that the map is an unconstitutional effort to help Republicans retain power.
That kind of gerrymandering, the suit alleges, violates Democrats’ constitutional rights in two ways: under the First Amendment freedom of association, since they’re being disenfranchised based on the party they chose to join, and under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, because Democrats are effectively entitled to less representation than Republicans.
A divided three-judge panel of the US District Court for Wisconsin ruled last year against the Wisconsin map, concluding that the plaintiffs are correct and that the map’s gerrymandering is unconstitutional. Kenneth Ripple, the author of that opinion, wrote, “We conclude … that the evidence establishes that one of the purposes of [the district map] was to secure 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.”
The panel stayed the map and ordered the legislature to redraw it. As part of agreeing to hear the case, the five conservatives on the Supreme Court (John Roberts, Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy) stayed the ruling, effectively removing the near-term requirement that Wisconsin redraw its map. The four liberals (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan) dissented.