The U.S. Supreme Court has issued its ruling in the partisan gerrymander case out of Wisconsin. The high court June 18 said the plaintiffs failed to show they had standing to challenge the Republican-drawn statewide legislative map.
First reports from the press at the Supreme Court described the much-anticipated decision as making a "punt" and taking a "pass." The court terms are "vacated" and "remanded."
Here's is the decision in Gill v. Whitford from the high court, issued shortly after 10 a.m. EST and written by the chief justice.
"What is stunning about the ruling is that the U.S. Supreme Court found a technicality allowing it to avoid immediately ruling on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering,” said Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “It is highly significant that the court refused to uphold the hyper-partisan districts created by Wisconsin Republicans, or reverse earlier federal court decisions which found them unconstitutional. There is nothing stopping the Legislature from from creating an independent redistricting process that serves the interests of the people of Wisconsin, not the partisan interests of political parties and politicians.”
The case was argued before the justices last October, and progressives in Wisconsin and beyond had hoped the court would find that the partisan gerrymander was so egregious it was unconstitutional.
Gill involved a challenge to a Wisconsin map drawn after Scott Walker became governor and Republicans seized control of the redistricting process. The Democratic challengers, at the lower court level, showed Republicans drew the map in secret with the purpose of locking in their control of the Legislature.
But the Supreme Court did not rule on the broader issue of whether the Constitution allows for electoral maps to be drawn to give an unfair advantage to a political party.
Back at the lower court, the challengers — Democratic voters — still could another opportunity to prove injury by the redistricting plan, but it is unlikely that could happen before the November general election.
“This case is very much still alive,” said Paul Smith the vice president of litigation and strategy at Campaign Legal Center, who argued the case before the court. “We now have the opportunity to demonstrate the real and concrete harms that result from partisan gerrymandering in the lower court, the same court that struck down the Wisconsin mapping scheme to begin with.”
Smith also said, “When legislators draw voting maps to favor one party over another and to stay in power, voters no longer have a voice in the political process. Extreme partisan gerrymandering is increasingly getting worse — damaging our democracy and eroding voters’ confidence in our system. We will continue advancing efforts, in this case and others as well as through the political process, to end this practice and safeguard every citizen’s fundamental right to vote and have it count.”
Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Martha Laning issued this statement following the Gill v. Whitford decision: “In 2011, Republicans in Wisconsin set out to draw maps that diluted the power of Democratic voters to ensure indefinite Republican control. The result has been an unfair electoral system that flies in the face of the foundational values of our representative democracy.
“Regardless of today’s ruling, Democrats in Wisconsin will continue to compete everywhere possible in 2018. We will continue to mobilize and we will continue to build the infrastructure necessary for more victories for the people of Wisconsin.”
The court also ruled June 18 on a case out of Maryland, Benisek v. Lamone, finding that the voters in the challenge failed to show how they were injured by a redistricting plan.
Common Cause, responding this morning, said this is by no means the end of the road and referred to page 16 in the Gill decision: “We leave for another day consideration of other possible theories of harm not presented here and whether those theories might present justiciable claims giving rise to statewide remedies.”
“With Wisconsin and Maryland’s cases still alive and Common Cause’s North Carolina case awaiting review by the Supreme Court, the fight to establish constitutional limits on partisan gerrymandering is very much alive,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of the organization.
In Wisconsin, Jay Heck, the long-time executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, said, “Today, the U.S. Supreme Court today did not address the unconstitutionality of one of the most partisan gerrymanders of state legislative districts (2011) in American history, but we remain hopeful that standing can be addressed and we can win justice in the courts.”
He added, “We even more urgently renew our call on the Wisconsin Legislature replace this broken system with a transparent, non-partisan process modeled after our neighbor, Iowa, in time for the 2021 redistricting cycle.”
More reaction to the decisions
From Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kelda Roys came this reaction: “Today, the Supreme Court remanded Gill v. Whitford, the Wisconsin gerrymandering case, to allow the plaintiffs to have their claim of harm reviewed by a lower court. This case was an important one to bring. Millions of Americans are now aware of how gerrymandering and rigged maps distort our democracy.
“We knew that, regardless of the court’s decision, we would still have work to do to guarantee fair maps and representation for Wisconsinites. It will be up to the next governor and legislature to pass independent redistricting reform — something I will prioritize.
“Democracy demands accountability. If legislators are not serving their constituents well, they should be voted out of office. Competitive elections help to ensure that legislators meet the needs of the people they serve or risk losing re-election. Competition also engenders a willingness to listen to those with whom we disagree — a skill that is in short supply.
“Wisconsin Republicans effectively silenced half the voters in our state — preserving their own political power and changing the rules to prevent voters from holding them accountable. They knew their decisions were unpopular, but rather than face the voters, they chose to rig the maps, change campaign finance laws and suppress votes.”
In a statement to the press, state Sen. David Hansen said, “The court’s decision shows just how much work needs to be done to restore fairness to our elections. It is time for legislators from both parties to come together and pass a real non-partisan redistricting law that will take the responsibility for drawing legislative district boundaries out of the hands of the politicians in Madison and replace it with one that gives the voters a voice in the process and at the ballot box.
“We already know that nonpartisan redistricting can work because we’ve seen it in action in states as close as Iowa, which our plan is modeled after. Nonpartisan redistricting not only takes the politics out of the map-drawing process, it does far more than our current system to ensure open, fair and competitive elections.
“I intend to re-introduce our Fair Maps redistricting plan as soon as I am able to when the Legislature convenes in January.”
“The Supreme Court did not give us the ruling we had hoped against partisan gerrymandering,” said Erin Grunze, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin. “As we explained in our amicus brief, the Wisconsin maps deny many citizens the full power of the vote and should be redrawn. The current redistricting process protects the party in power — whichever party it is — and is not an open and transparent process carried out in the interest of the voters. It is notable that the Court ruling still allows the plaintiffs a chance to demonstrate this in further legal proceedings.
“Regardless of what happens in the courts, Wisconsin can still right this wrong. So far, 39 of 72 Wisconsin counties have passed resolutions in support of a nonpartisan redistricting process. Lawmakers in the Wisconsin Capitol need to be accountable to voters and support legislation that will take the power of map drawing out of partisan control and give it to an independent body, with plenty of public input, in the interest of fairness and democracy. Wisconsin voters are demanding this reform and the League of Women Voters will continue to advocate for a nonpartisan redistricting process.”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, chair of the Democratic Governors Association, said, “Americans cannot wait for the Supreme Court to stop the gerrymandering that poisons our democracy. The most important thing we can do in 2018 to stop gerrymandering is to elect Democratic governors who will fight for fairer maps. This November's gubernatorial elections will determine the makeup of Congress and state legislatures for more than a decade. The Supreme Court today affirmed what we have known for some time: The best defense against gerrymandering in 2021 is a Democratic governor in the state house.
“This November, Americans will elect more than 25 governors with veto power over 2021 maps. Governors with a veto pen in hand hold tremendous power to end extreme partisan gerrymandering and stand up for fair maps and fair representation. Democratic governors are ready to follow the path blazed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf in fighting for maps that provide fairer Congressional and legislative districts. That’s why the DGA launched the Unrig The Map project to support this critical mission.
“Today, Justice Kagan warned: ‘The 2010 redistricting cycle produced some of the worst partisan gerrymanders on record. … The technology will only get better, so the 2020 cycle will only get worse.’ Justice Kagan is right: And that’s why we need Democratic governors at the table to stop Republican map-rigging after the 2020 Census.
“While the Supreme Court’s decision not to act on partisan gerrymandering today was disappointing, it reaffirms that electing Democratic governors in states is the single best path to unrigging the map across the United States. While Americans wait for the court to take on redistricting in 2019, we can take action in 2018 to elect Democratic governors and stop extreme gerrymandering in its tracks.”
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel issued the following statement: “I am pleased that the highest court in the land has unanimously reversed the trial court’s erroneous decision invalidating Wisconsin’s Assembly map. Today is win for the rule of law in Wisconsin, and a testament to the talented attorneys at the Wisconsin Department of Justice.”
“We continue to stand proud that a group of citizens came together and took a case all the way to Supreme Court,” said Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, which originally organized and launched the lawsuit. “This is definitely not the end of the road.
“The lawyers are reviewing the decision, & the plaintiffs will examine their options,” continued Chheda, who also serves as co-chair of the WI Fair Maps Coalition, 13 Wisconsin organizations fighting for the end of partisan gerrymandering. “In the meantime, we will immediately focus on gaining more support for independent redistricting reform & passing legislation in the coming term to ensure next round of map-drawing is fair.”