SCOTUS Hears Wisconsin Redistricting Case

Wisconsin’s electoral maps were put to the test Tuesday morning during a tense session of oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. Gill v. Whitford is the court’s first significant test in years on partisan gerrymandering, or the idea of crafting district lines for the benefit of one party, and whether courts should police such practices.

Following the intensive hour of questioning, Wisconsin Solicitor General Misha Tseytlin sounded confident in the state’s case. “When you have the law on your side, that’s a good place to be going into the argument,” he told MacIver News Service Tuesday afternoon.

Defenders of Wisconsin’s redistricting plan also have history on their side – and, perhaps, standing. Tseytlin reminded the justices that the high court has never tossed out a map on the basis of partisan gerrymandering.

In 2004, the court narrowly determined it shouldn’t referee a Pennsylvania redistricting case, very similar to Wisconsin’s. But Justice Anthony Kennedy said at some point in the future a case so clearly partisan could rise to a judicable level – that is, meriting court review.

Liberals believe in their hearts the Wisconsin redistricting plan is that case. They won last year when a lower court panel of judges, in a 2-1 ruling, determined Wisconsin’s district maps ran afoul of the Constitution by putting Democrats at a distinct disadvantage. Liberals complain that the redrawn maps give Dems little chance of ever winning back the Legislature, which they lost in the Republican revolution of 2010.

William Whitford, a University of Wisconsin Law School professor emeritus and lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, argues the state Assembly “bears no resemblance to its evenly split electorate.” He claims Republicans “wield legislative power unearned by their actual appeal to Wisconsin voters. This pro-Republican skew is no accident.”