The Supreme Court will hear arguments today on whether Wisconsin’s legislative maps are so extremely partisan that they are, in fact, unconstitutional.
It’s a case that could fundamentally reshape the way politics is practiced in America.
As The Nation reports, legal scholars and voting rights activists claim that in 2010, Wisconsin’s Republican Legislature sought to “lock in the majorities” they gained that year. It was the first year in decades that the party controlled both the governorship and the legislature during a redistricting year. And the GOP took advantage.
The party worked in secret, according to NPR, to draw new district lines that would consolidate Republican control over the state.
The tools the map designers used were not new—packing large concentrations of Democratic voters into a district to give the opposition party far more voters than they needed to win. They then spread out the remaining Democrats into districts where they would be clearly outnumbered (a practice known as cracking).
The nation’s highest court will now decide whether the gerrymandering has been so extreme that it violates the rights of Wisconsin voters. As NPR details, the legal questions at play are whether these maps denied citizens equal protection of the law, whether the maps devalued the votes of certain citizens (violating their First Amendment right to free speech) and whether the courts can accurately measure the harm caused by these practices.
Race has figured significantly into gerrymandering practices, and federal courts have stepped in to have states redraw maps that harm black and Latinx voters. Last year the Supreme Court found two of North Carolina’s districts to be so racially gerrymandered they were unconstitutional.
While North Carolina’s GOP specifically targeted black voters, Wisconsin’s gerrymandering case is more partisan in nature, concentrating voters on party lines rather than using census data to target specific racial demographics as North Carolina’s did.
But Wisconsin’s gerrymandering has been scarily successful. In 2012, although Republican candidates got just 48.6 percent of the vote statewide, GOP candidates were able to secure a 60-to-39 advantage in the state Assembly, according to the Washington Post. In fact, evidence from previous lawsuits finds that the Democrats would have to win 53 percent of the statewide vote just to capture a bare majority of seats. Not surprisingly, the Wisconsin GOP has remained in power in the state for the last decade.
A decision against Wisconsin’s gerrymandering practices would fundamentally redraw the American political landscape. If the Wisconsin map is found to be unconstitutional, dozens more states would have to toss their electoral maps, according to the Post.
The case, Gill v. Whitford, will be decided next year.
Read more at NPR.