Reaction to court's decision to hear redistricting case


MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court's announcement Monday that it will hold oral arguments to decide whether Republican Wisconsin lawmakers drew electoral districts so out of whack with the state's political breakdown that they violated the constitutional rights of Democratic voters.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the appeal of a circuit court's ruling that declared Wisconsin's legislative maps unconstitutional.

Democrats in Maryland drew plenty of crazily shaped districts to help their party in 2011 - its Third District has been likened to a "praying mantis" - but a federal lawsuit challenging the state's last round of redistricting is focused on one: the Sixth District, which yoked Democratic voters from the Washington suburbs to Republican voters in the rural west of the state.

"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", added Smith, who will argue the case before the justices.

A panel of three federal judges previously ruled that the maps unconstitutionally harmed Democrats because districts were drawn in a way that unfairly benefited Republicans. The district court agreed with the challengers that the map was drawn for partisan reasons and resulted in "wasted votes".

If the Legislature is forced to draw new maps, they'd have to be more competitive, which would give Democrats a better shot at winning legislative seats than they have right now. That weakened African-American voting strength elsewhere in the state, the court said. Republicans might stuff Democratic voters into Democratic districts, leaving other districts with Republican majorities that are essentially just large enough to elect GOP candidates.

That's because while various court rulings have made it clear that racial gerrymandering is unconstitutional, the US Supreme Court has not yet made a decisive ruling on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering.

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Past year a district court ordered Wisconsin to produce a new, less partisan map in time for the 2018 election.

Blackman notes the high court is also likely to take up the Texas redistricting case next session.

The cleanest answer for the nine justices would be to reverse the lower court decision striking down Wisconsin's legislative districts as too partisan.

The higher the efficiency gap, plaintiffs say, the more dramatic the partisan gerrymander, and Wisconsin's legislative map had one of the highest efficiency gaps of any redistricting plan in the nation going back four decades. In 2014, Republicans won 52 percent of the vote and increased their state assembly majority to 63 seats.

The court's decision does not address a request by state Attorney General Brad Schimel to delay enforcement of the lower court panel order that requires new Assembly boundaries be drawn up by November 2017, before the 2018 elections.

Under the Wisconsin redistricting plan, Republicans were able to amplify their voting power, gaining more seats than their percentage of the statewide vote would suggest.

A dozen Democratic voters filed suit in 2015 against state election officials over the redistricting, saying the Republican-backed plan divided Democratic voters in some areas and packed them in others.