Justices: No definitive ruling on partisan districts


The Supreme Court's rejection of Democrats' challenge to districts they say were rigged on a partisan basis by Wisconsin Republicans came on a 9-0 vote, but dueling opinions revealed internal conflicts and portend difficulty ahead for any future gerrymandering claim.

A seven-justice majority noted that a failure to demonstrate standing usually results in a dismissal.

"It is a case about group political interests, not individual legal rights", Roberts wrote.

The case, Gill v. Whitford, drew a national spotlight leading up to this decision.

During high court arguments on October 3, several justices questioned the standing of voters from 11 districts to challenge the entire Assembly map. In 2004, the court upheld the practice of gerrymandering in a case concerning Pennsylvania's map, finding that the practice of gerrymandering was outside the court's purview and "nonjusticiable". He can be reached by org jforward wisbar email or by phone at (608) 250-6161. In most other civil cases, he said, it's possible either to block harm before it happens or to make the plaintiffs whole after the fact. The court determined "no such standard [for ruling gerrymandering unconstitutional] has emerged in this case", though they left open the possibility that the court could rule on partisan gerrymandering in the future.

Wydra said there does not appear to be five votes on the court to say definitively the courts must stay out of partisan gerrymandering.

Nevertheless, the plaintiffs in the Wisconsin case, she maintains in her opinion, failed to sufficiently substantiate their claims. The Supreme Court has chose to sidestep the gerrymandering cases, sending them back to the lower courts.

Voting rights attorneys and advocates expressed an urgency to get more challenges to the court to rule before the next round of electoral map-drawing.

The idea that it's good for the U.S. It is also the goal of the Democrats who worked to elected a State Supreme Court that then replaced partisan Democratic districts instead of Republican districts - setting a unsafe precedent of both National Parties putting all their money into a few State Supreme Court races to determine who then takes over legislatures.

The Supreme Court is still considering whether to take up a North Carolina case involving similar issues. Like the Maryland case, the Supreme Court didn't dismiss it, but made a decision to give the challengers another chance in the lower courts. But the Supreme Court opted not to address the tougher question concerning the constitutionality of gerrymandering for political gain, instead sending the matter back to the district court in Maryland to rule on it. The justices had been expected to rule on the limits of partisan gerrymandering. That harm arises from the particular composition of the voter's own district, which causes his vote- having been packed or cracked- to carry less weight than it would carry in another, hypothetical district.

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"Remedying the individual voter's harm, therefore, does not necessarily require restructuring of all of the State's legislative districts", the Chief Justice continued.

Helpap is closely watching another redistricting case. Before the gerrymander, the state's maps were likely to send 6 Democrats and 2 Republicans to Congress.

Paul Smith, a Washington lawyer who represented the Wisconsin challengers, said they would accept the court's invitation to return to lower court with plaintiffs spread across Wisconsin. Again, the justices identified the problem of standing.

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Justice Elena Kagan, joined by justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, also concurred in the decision, but she wrote separately to describe the type of evidence that the challengers could use to establish their gerrymander claim.

So the voters who sued will be able to try to prove they have standing.

"The plaintiffs may have an opportunity to prove concrete and particularized injuries using evidence-unlike the bulk of the evidence presented thus far", Roberts wrote.

"We're basically in the same place we've been, which is Justice Kennedy holds the decisive vote and he's not ready to commit one way or the other", Rick Hasen, a UC-Irvine election law professor who runs the Election Law blog, told TPM. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch would have dismissed the challenge outright. Two years later, Republicans won 52 percent of the two-party statewide vote, yet they won 63 of the 99 seats.

The Court's unanimous, unsigned opinion in Benisek is particularly unsatisfying.