"WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court announced on Monday that it would consider whether partisan gerrymandering violates the Constitution, potentially setting the stage for a ruling that could for the first time impose limits on a practice that has helped define American politics since the early days of the Republic.
The term gerrymander was coined after Elbridge Gerry, Massachusetts’s governor, signed an 1812 law that included a voting district shaped like a salamander to help the electoral prospects of his party. Over the centuries, lawmakers have become ever more sophisticated in redrawing legislative maps after each decennial census, carving out oddly shaped districts for state legislatures and the House of Representatives that favor their parties’ candidates.
While the Supreme Court has struck down voting districts as racial gerrymanders, it has never disallowed a legislative map because of partisan gerrymandering.
The new case is an appeal of a decision striking down the legislative map for the Wisconsin State Assembly drawn after Republicans gained control of the state’s government in 2010. The decision was the first from a federal court in more than 30 years to reject a voting map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.
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Susan Fitzwater 36 minutes ago The question so many years ago was--what constitutes pornography? A Supreme Court justice gave a classic answer. 'I cannot evolve,' he... Julio 37 minutes ago I support whatever is guaranteed to hurt Republicans. Patrick 37 minutes ago Voting districts are inherently unconstitutional because the practice entails politicians choosing voters, not voters choosing political... SEE ALL COMMENTS WRITE A COMMENT The map, Judge Kenneth F. Ripple wrote for the majority of a divided three-judge Federal District Court, ‘was designed to make it more difficult for Democrats, compared to Republicans, to translate their votes into seats.’
Paul Smith, a lawyer for the voters who challenged the map, said it was time for the Supreme Court to act.
‘Partisan gerrymandering of this kind is worse now than at any time in recent memory,’ Mr. Smith said. ‘The Supreme Court has the opportunity to ensure the maps in Wisconsin are drawn fairly, and further, has the opportunity to create ground rules that safeguard every citizen’s right to freely choose their representatives.’
Wisconsin’s attorney general, Brad Schimel, said he was ‘thrilled the Supreme Court has granted our request’ to hear the appeal. ‘Our redistricting process was entirely lawful and constitutional,’ he said.
The case is part of a larger debate over political gerrymandering. Some critics, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican and the former governor of California, say districts should be drawn by independent commissions rather than politicians. Prominent Democrats, including former President Barack Obama and his attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., are pushing an effort to undo the redistricting gains Republicans made after the 2010 census when the next census is taken three years from now.
In Wisconsin, the redistricting took place after Republicans had gained complete control of the state government for the first time in more than 40 years. Lawmakers promptly drew a map for the State Assembly that helped Republicans convert very close statewide vote totals into lopsided legislative majorities.
In 2012, Republicans won 48.6 percent of the statewide vote for Assembly candidates but captured 60 of the Assembly’s 99 seats. In 2014, 52 percent of the vote yielded 63 seats.
In the past, some justices have said the court should stay out of such political disputes. Others have said partisan gerrymanders may violate the Constitution.
The fate of the case is very likely to turn on the vote of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who has taken a middle position, leaving the door to such challenges open a crack, though he has never voted to sustain one.
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