Supreme Court Leaves Open the Door to Rein in Partisan Gerrymandering
Gill v. Whitford Sent Back to Wisconsin District Court, Plaintiffs Asked to Prove Specific Harm
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to strike down Wisconsin’s voting map in Gill v. Whitford, returning the case to District Court to give plaintiffs the opportunity to demonstrate specific and concrete harms as a result of partisan gerrymandering.
“This case is very much still alive. 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,” said Paul Smith, vice president of litigation and strategy at Campaign Legal Center (CLC), who argued the case before the court on October 3, 2017. “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.”
The case was brought by CLC and co-counsel on behalf of 12 Democratic voters in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin voters challenged the constitutionality of the state’s extreme partisan gerrymandering scheme, devised in secrecy by Republican leaders in 2011. The plan all but guarantees one-party control of the Wisconsin Assembly for the entire decade, no matter how the voters cast their ballots.
Named plaintiff Bill Whitford, a retired law professor from Madison, said, "We are confident we can prove the real harms to real citizens caused by lawmakers who choose their voters instead of the voters choosing their representatives. We are encouraged by Kagan's concurrence."
In the first election under the plan, Republicans won a supermajority of 60 out of 99 seats despite losing the statewide vote for the Assembly. In 2014 and 2016, Republicans extended their advantage to 63 and 64 seats, respectively, even though the statewide vote remained nearly tied. Subsequently, for the first time in 31 years, a lower court—after a four-day trial—struck down the plan as an unconstitutional gerrymander.
“Partisan gerrymandering is a concern for all Americans, including both Republicans and Democrats,” said Trevor Potter, president of CLC, and a Republican former Commissioner and Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. “While the justices did not strike down the Wisconsin gerrymander in this case, they have clarified what we need to make our case to the lower court about how pervasive and damaging this practice has become for individual voters, as well as for the integrity of our democracy.”
Appellees argued that Wisconsin's gerrymander violates both the Equal Protection Clause by diluting the electoral influence of a targeted group of voters, and the First Amendment, by penalizing these voters because of their political beliefs.
Learn more about the redistricting process, how it works, and the everyday impacts of partisan gerrymandering on our democracy here.
Private counsel working with CLC in representing the appellees includes Douglas M. Poland of Rathje & Woodward, Peter G. Earle of the Law Office of Peter Earle, LLC, Michele L. Odorizzi of Mayer Brown, Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos of the University of Chicago Law School and Jessica R. Amunson of Jenner & Block.