The Washington Post reports: With newly elected Scott Walker in the governor’s office and a firm grip on the legislature, Wisconsin Republicans in 2011 had a unique opportunity to redraw the state’s electoral maps and fortify their party’s future.
Aides were dispatched to a private law firm to keep their work out of public view. They employed the most precise technology available to dissect new U.S. Census data and convert it into reliably Republican districts even if the party’s fortunes soured. Democrats were kept in the dark, and even GOP incumbents had to sign confidentiality agreements before their revamped districts were revealed to them. Only a handful of people saw the entire map until it was unveiled and quickly approved.
In the following year’s elections, when Republicans got just 48.6 percent of the statewide vote, they still captured a 60-39 seat advantage in the General Assembly.
Now, the Supreme Court is being asked to uphold a lower court’s finding that the Wisconsin redistricting effort was more than just extraordinary — it was unconstitutional.
Such a conclusion would mark a watershed moment for the way American elections are conducted.
The Supreme Court has regularly — and increasingly — tossed out state electoral maps because they have been gerrymandered to reduce the influence of racial minorities by depressing the impact of their votes.
But the justices have never found a plan unconstitutional because of partisan gerrymandering — when a majority party draws the state’s electoral districts to give such an advantage to its candidates that it dilutes the votes of those supporting the other party.
A divided panel of three judges in Wisconsin, though, decided just that in November. It became the first federal court in three decades to find that a redistricting plan violated the Constitution’s First Amendment and equal rights protections because of partisan gerrymandering.
The Supreme Court could announce as soon as Monday that it is either affirming or reversing the lower court’s decision, or, more likely, accepting the case for full briefing and arguments in the term that begins in the fall.
The case comes at a time when the dusty subject of reapportionment has taken on new significance, with many blaming the drawing of safely partisan seats for a polarized and gridlocked Congress. Barack Obama has said one of his post-presidency projects will be to combat partisan gerrymanders after the 2020 Census.
In Wisconsin, it already has become a hot topic.
“If there’s one word that defines the last year or year and a half in this country, it’s ‘rigged,’ ” said Dale Schulz, a Republican and former Wisconsin legislator who has joined with a Democratic counterpart to urge an end to the way the state handles redistricting. “People have come to realize their votes aren’t as important as they once were. And that’s really what this whole case is about: It’s about making sure people’s votes have equal value.” [Continue reading…]