Supreme Court Sends Wisconsin, Maryland Gerrymandering Cases Back To Lower Courts, Refusing To Rule

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday by a narrow margin against a group of Democrats from Wisconsin and Republicans from Maryland who were challenging their states’ district maps. In the Wisconsin case known as Gil v. Whitford, the Democrats challenged the state’s 2011 redistricting and charged that it was an unconstitutional gerrymander. The case brought by the Republicans from Maryland is known as Benisek v. Lamone. It was also a challenge to redistricting but to only one district drawn by Democrats that the Republicans claimed put them at a disadvantage. Although the court has demanded district lines to be redrawn due to racial gerrymandering, The Washington Post reports that Monday’s decisions continue its history of never finding a basis for redrawing district lines due to partisan gerrymandering.

North Carolina has a case pending in which there are plaintiffs from each of its 13 districts. Republicans control 10 of those districts. The plaintiffs in that case may have a greater chance at success based on the feedback of some judges in Monday’s decision in Wisconsin. The court called for plaintiffs from each district in Wisconsin to prove a violation of their rights to a lower court instead of the state as a whole bringing the case as was done in Gil v. Whitford.

Chief Justice John Roberts said that the injury claimed in the Wisconsin case (dilution of voting power) is at a district level, not a state one. He added that “Remedying the individual voter’s harm, therefore, does not necessarily require restructuring of all the state’s legislative districts.” Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch agreed that the state didn’t have a strong case, but disagreed that they should have the opportunity to take it to a lower court with plaintiffs from each district. In his dissent, Thomas said stated that the plaintiffs had ample opportunity to prove their injury and failed to do so. Justice Elena Kegan wrote in a statement supported by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor that she agrees with the decision to bring a case with plaintiffs from each district, and that she is “hopeful we will then step up to our responsibility to vindicate the Constitution against a contrary law.”

The Maryland case is currently on hold in district court according to The Hill and pending Monday’s decision from the Supreme Court. That case will now be heard by the Maryland court.

Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States, expressed disappointment in Monday’s decision.

“Partisan gerrymandering is distorting and undermining our representative democracy, giving politicians the power to choose their voters, instead of giving voters the power to choose their politicians. We are disappointed that the Court failed to set a standard.”

Jason Torchinsky, legal counsel for the National Republican Redistricting Trust, on the other hand, supported the decisions, saying:

“Once again, plaintiffs seeking refuge through the courts for their political geography problems have been sent back to the drawing board. In the future the Court should go further and reign in the flood of political gerrymandering litigation that is clogging federal courts with dubious political science theories.”

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