By State Representative, Leon D. Young
In case you didn’t know, Congress has traditionally fixed the opening day of the Supreme Court. The October 2017 Term marks the 100th anniversary of the Court opening on the First Monday in October. This year, October 2, 2017, also marks the 50th anniversary of Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall joining the Court. Marshall took his Judicial Oath in the Courtroom before a large crowd that included President Lyndon B. Johnson.
However, the upcoming term of the Supreme Court takes on even added significance because the Court will hear oral arguments (on Tuesday, October 3, 2017) in a case the centers on the thorny issue of partisan gerrymandering. The case to which I refer is Whiford v. Gill, and marks the first time in more than a decade that the high court has considered this judicial issue, and will be watched closely in legal circles.
By way of background, the lawsuit was brought forward by 12 Democratic voters who felt the redistricting guaranteed Republican wins in their district, thereby nullifying their votes. As illustrated by the fact that in 2012, 1.4 million Democrats voted in State Assembly races compared to 1.2 million Republicans, yet the GOP came away with a staggering 60-39 majority.
On November 21, 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin issued a historic decision on a Wisconsin case that struck down a state legislative redistricting plan as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander for the first time. More specifically, the court ruled that 2011 Wisconsin Act 43, which made new districts for the assembly, “systematically dilute[d] the voting strength of Democratic voters” and intentionally burdened the representational rights by impending their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
In fact, this partisan gerrymander was so immoderate that an expert on the topic is on record as having said “Wisconsin is the most extreme partisan gerrymander in the United States in the post-2010 cycle. It’s about as far out from what you would consider to be fair as you can imagine.” (Attorney Gerry Hebert, who’s the executive director of the Washington, D.C.- based Campaign Legal Center. Wisconsin Public Radio, May 24, 2016).
The Republican State Leadership Committee, which ran a project called Redmap to maximize power through redistricting, including in Wisconsin, has expressed that voters prefer noncompetitive districts because they produce representatives who conform ideologically with more constituents. However, the Supreme Court has been reluctant to interfere in the process. It wasn’t until 1962, faced with districts not revised in decades, that the court ruled political maps could be challenged in court. The court has struck down maps designed to disenfranchise African- Americans and other minorities, but hasn’t ruled against either party for using redistricting power to undermine the other.
Make no mistake about it, gerrymandering is a tradition as old as the Republic; however, it may at last be facing its final reckoning. The legal question before the court: Is extreme gerrymandering unconstitutional? In my view, the way Republicans rigged the maps in Wisconsin was a blatant infringement – #throw out the 2011 maps.