SCOTUS Punts on Two Gerrymandering Cases

Posted: Jun 18, 2018 11:25 AM

For now, the voter redistricting maps in Wisconsin and Maryland will stand. The Supreme Court has decided to sidestep the gerrymandering cases, sending them back to the lower courts. In the 7-2 decision on Gill v. Whitford, the justices concluded that a group of Democratic plaintiffs did not have a good enough challenge against the Republican-held legislature's voting map in Wisconsin, where Republicans hold 63 of 99 seats in the lower house.

"A citizen’s interest in the overall composition of the legislature is embodied in his right to vote for his representative," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. "The harm asserted by the plaintiffs in this case is best understood as arising from a burden on their own votes."

The next time, the opinion explained, plaintiffs need to bring their challenges via individual districts, instead of considering the state map as a whole.

By sending the case back to the lower courts, the Supreme Court has given the plaintiffs another chance to prove the redistricting maps are discriminatory. A federal district court ruled last year that the maps were unfair, "impeding" Democrats' ability "to translate their votes into legislative seats."

The Supreme Court also avoided a decision in a gerrymandering case in Maryland. Some of the maps in The Old Line State are so funky that one has been compared to a praying mantis. In that case, it's the Republicans mounting a challenge to the gerrymandered districts. The maps appeared to secure Democrats seven of eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Even the high court's liberal justices noted that Democratic lawmakers overstepped their authority.

During oral argument in March, the court's liberal justices said Democrats clearly went too far when they redrew a congressional district won for two decades by a conservative Republican so he would lose in a landslide in 2012. They did it by moving tens of thousands of Republicans out of the 6th district, which borders West Virginia and western Pennsylvania, and replacing them with tens of thousands of Democrats from the wealthy suburbs of Washington, D.C.

North Carolina, Texas, Ohio, Michigan and Virginia also have pending gerrymandering cases.