The justices on Monday said they will decide whether Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin drew electoral districts so out of whack with the state's political breakdown that they violated the constitutional rights of Democratic voters.
"If Democratic voters are heavily concentrated in a few locations and we run elections based upon geographic districts that have to be contiguous and compact and of equal population as they do - and as they were, in these maps drawn by the Republican Legislature in 2011 - then of course it would be hard for Democrats - maybe even impossible for Democrats - to ever take control of the Legislature". Whitford gives the court its first look at the issue since then and an opportunity to set some limits on excessive partisanship in redistricting.
The justices may have given an early sense for which way they're leaning, issuing an order halting a lower court's ruling that had demanded Wisconsin redraw its maps by November.
The high court case could affect pending legal disputes over Republican-drawn maps in North Carolina and Pennsylvania and a Democratic-drawn map in Maryland. Four others-only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer remain-said such challenges could be heard by the court but disagreed on the method.
The state contends that while Wisconsin is a purple state in national elections, its geography favors Republicans in legislative elections.
Sachin Chheda (SAH'-chihn CHAY'-dah) is director of the Fair Elections Project, which organized and launched the lawsuit. Voters shut out of power by that state's partisan gerrymander presented a new neutral statistical standard (called the "efficiency gap") to a three-judge district court panel. The case will not come up in a hearing before the Justices until their next term, starting in October.
The U.S. Supreme Court could announce, the week of June 19, whether it will take up the case involving Wisconsin's legislative maps. He said he doesn't believe the court will rule until possibly the middle of 2018. As a result, CNN analyst and law professor Steve Vladeck adds this case could have "enormous ramifications" for the practice of redistricting - not just in Wisconsin, but in all 50 states.
"Correct", responded Marc Elias, who was general counsel for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.
In many past years, the courts redrew the state Senate and Assembly lines because state government was split along party lines, but in 2011, Republicans had swept into power and did the job themselves.
Before 2011, the last two electoral maps were drawn by federal judges after the legislature was unable to reach agreement.
How Texans are reacting: The state's top Republican leadership - Gov.
Attorney General Brad Schimel released the following statement in response.
"Technology has made it easier than ever for self-interested legislators to manipulate districts for political advantage, so it is essential that courts step in to protect voters' fundamental constitutional rights".
The case will be "one of the most important cases of the decade", said Michael Li, a redistricting expert at the New York University's Brennan Center for Justice.
The U.S. Supreme Court has never struck down a state redistricting plan on the basis of a partisan gerrymander.
"Texas is one of the states that has high partisan bias on its congressional map, mainly because it has not created enough Latino opportunity districts, and that has both a racial impact and a partisan impact", Li said. In racial gerrymandering, lines are drawn to lower the influence of black voters, sometimes by scattering them across different districts.
In a 2-1 ruling, the court found that the districts were drawn in order to minimize the influence of Democratic votes, and were "designed to make it more hard for Democrats, compared to Republicans, to translate their votes into seats", the majority opinion concluded. The Court's decision in this case will determine whether that ideal becomes a reality.