Wisconsin Takes Gerrymander Case to High Court

MADISON, Wis. (CN) – Wisconsin asked the Supreme Court on Friday to reverse a three-judge panel’s finding that Republican-drawn election maps crossed the line into unconstitutional gerrymandering.

Making good on Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel’s promise to challenge the 2-1 decision in Whitford v Gill finding that 2011 Republican redistricting amounted to gerrymandering, the state of Wisconsin formally appealed the decision Friday.

Schimel vowed to appeal the decision shortly after it was handed down.

If it agrees to hear the case, the U.S. Supreme Court could set a standard for analyzing partisan gerrymandering plans and stopping the practice nationwide, according to Campaign Legal Center, or CLC.

In July 2015, 12 Democratic voters filed a civil rights lawsuit against Wisconsin election authorities, accusing Republicans of creating a redistricting plan in secret and then rushing their plan through the Legislature.

The redistricting allowed Republicans to gain an upper hand, reportedly securing 60 percent of the seats in the Legislature in 2012 when they only received 49 percent of the statewide vote.

The state’s attempts to get the lawsuit thrown out were unsuccessful, and the case was ultimately heard by Seventh Circuit Judge Kenneth Ripple, who authored November’s ruling. Joining Ripple on the three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin were District Judge Barbara Crabb and Chief District Judge William Griesbach, who dissented.

Writing for the majority, Ripple concluded that the way the new districting map was crafted meant Republicans would enjoy control of the state government for years to come, not just in the past two elections cited in the lawsuit.

Ripple also noted that because Republican staff members worked with attorneys and experts to secretly craft the new districting plan, they were not creating a map without partisan bias.

Gerry Hebert, CLC’s director of voting rights and redistricting, said in a statement Friday that “voters should be able to choose their representatives and influence the policy decisions that directly impact their lives.”

“For too long our democracy has been controlled by lawmakers who draw legislative districts to benefit themselves. The Supreme Court can now solve this pervasive problem by establishing – for the first time – a manageable standard by which courts nationwide can analyze partisan gerrymandering claims and curb the undemocratic practice,” he said. “We are confident the U.S. Supreme Court will agree with the panel of judges that has already ruled that Wisconsin’s extreme partisan gerrymander is unconstitutional.”

In response to Wisconsin’s appeal, the lead plaintiff in the case, Bill Whitford, said, “This is another step in our journey for a stronger, fairer democracy.”

“I have faith that the United States Supreme Court will share my belief that extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional and undermines our democracy. We have to remember what this case is all about – creating a system where the voters select their legislators, not where legislators select their voters,” he said. “The Supreme Court has an historic opportunity to ensure that my voice, and the voices of all Wisconsin voters, are heard and to put a standard in place that will stop this detrimental practice from occurring across the country.”

Because of the unique procedural process for redistricting cases, the Supreme Court must summarily affirm, summarily deny, or hear the case on the merits, according to the CLC.

The group says the case is the first purely partisan gerrymandering case to go to trial in 30 years.

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