WASHINGTON (CN) - Urging the Supreme Court to crack down on Wisconsin Republicans for political gerrymandering, an attorney for voters warned the justices Tuesday that turning a blind eye will only embolden Machiavellian lawmakers to embrace advancing technology.
"If you let this go, if you say we're not going to have a judicial remedy for this problem, in 2020 you're going to have a festival of copycat gerrymandering the likes of which this country has never seen," Paul Smith, an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center, said at Tuesday's arguments.
Smith warned that new techniques and social science metrics mean the next round of redistricting will not be "your father's gerrymandering."
Republican majorities have controlled both houses of the state Legislature since 2011. Armed with the results of the 2010 census that year, lawmakers hired a consultant and a political science expert to help divide up the state's legislative map, working from the offices of a law firm they called the "map room.”
Though the state lawmakers say their changes were above board, 12 Democratic voters led by professor William Whitford claimed in a federal complaint that the map was divided with the express purpose of favoring the party of Lincoln.
They claim the lawmakers did this by employing cracking and packing, the two major methods of gerrymandering.
In cracking, legislatures draw districts so voters from one party are scattered across districts, limiting their impact on each race. As its name suggests, packing does just the opposite, jamming a large number of co-partisans together to create one, landslide district.
Relying on a host of new social-science metrics that the Wisconsin voters presented as evidence, a divided panel of three federal judges found the state map unconstitutional last year, triggering a mandatory appeal to the Supreme Court.
The social-science metrics relied upon by Whitford and the other voters were at the heart of Tuesday's arguments, with Chief Justice John Roberts referring to them a "gobbledygook" and questioning their durability given that others presented to courts in similar cases have been proven wrong in the past.
"That's going to come out one case after another as these cases are brought in every state," Roberts said. "And that is going to cause very serious harm to the status and integrity of the decisions of this court in the eyes of the country."
Wisconsin Solicitor General Misha Tseytlin echoed this point, saying the metrics are far from a scientific certainty. He warned against adopting a scheme that requires courts to handle redistricting by sorting through mountains of evidence presented by experts and social scientists.
"You could have federal courts engaging in battles of hypothetical experts deciding, well, what would it be under this map or that map?" Tseytlin said. "So I think that's a nonstarter for that reason."