The case could have a major impact on how district lines are drawn up nationwide.
Legislative boundaries get redrawn every decade after the U.S. Census to make sure they're equal in population, but when one party controls all of state government as Republicans did after the 2010 wave election, they can draw maps that give themselves a partisan edge. The Supreme Court split 5-4 on Monday in ordering that work to be halted while the high court considers the Wisconsin case. Justices also put on hold an earlier ruling requiring that new maps be drawn by November. Nationwide redistricting in 2020, and all future congressional and state legislature elections, will ultimately hinge on whether the courts will referee extreme gerrymandering.
Wisconsin's legislative leaders asked the Supreme Court in a legal brief to reject any effort that "wrests control of districting away from the state legislators to whom the state constitution assigns that task, and hands it to federal judges and opportunistic plaintiffs seeking to accomplish in court what they failed to achieve at the ballot box", the Washington Post reported. "Politicians should not be choosing their voters, voters should be choosing their politicians because that is democracy as the Founders intended it". We proved in federal court that Democrats and Republicans are pretty evenly clustered throughout the state and that Democrats in Wisconsin have had their rights violated. If the Supreme Court sides with the lower court, the out-of-power party in states across the country - whether Republican or Democrat - would have a new avenue for challenging maps.
"As I have said before, our redistricting process was entirely lawful and constitutional, and the district court should be reversed", Schimel said. "Now this story will be told on a national stage". He has written that maps can be so partisan that they violate voters' rights, but that a standard has not been developed that courts can use to measure when maps should be thrown out because they result in unconstitutional political gerrymandering.
The court's five conservative justices voted to stop the redistricting process. The stay was opposed by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen, the court's four liberal-leaning justices.
The Supreme Court has been reluctant to tackle partisan gerrymandering and sort through arguments about whether an electoral system is rigged or, instead, a party's political advantage is due to changing attitudes and demographics. "The essential question is whether the court will finally accept a new standard and block partisan gerrymandering, or continue the court's stated disapproval of excessive partisan gerrymandering while never finding one to overrule", League of Women Voters president Chris Carson said.
Even justices who favor giving lawmakers discretion to draw district lines hold their noses when it comes to how they do it.
The Supreme Court will take up a fight over parties manipulating electoral districts to gain partisan advantage in a case that could affect the balance between Democrats and Republicans in many states.
The team working on behalf of the Democratic voters contends that it has found a way to measure unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders created to give a "large and durable" advantage in elections to one party - a measure that the Supreme Court has said was lacking in previous cases contending a partisan gerrymander.
The case will be argued in the fall.
Wisconsin Democratic Party chairwoman Martha Laning said, however, that she is "confident that the 2011 legislative maps will be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court as well and electoral fairness will be restored to Wisconsin".
In its decision on Wisconsin's case, the majority in the lower court panel decision wrote that the Assembly district map, which was drawn in the office of a Madison law firm that often represents Republican interests, "was meant to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters.by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats".