Democracy and fairness in elections scored a massive victory in Wisconsin on Nov. 21 when a panel of federal judges found the Republican’s 2011 plan of redistricting was unconstitutional. The main argument presented by the Democrats stated the plan was meant to prevent Democrats from voting. The Republicans said this argument was nonsense, and their party had every right to draw the district lines any way they liked, which is a perk of being in the majority.
The three-judge panel wrote a 116 page decision, with two judges agreeing what the Republicans had done was “intended to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters throughout the decennial period by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats.” The majority further found:
Moreover, as demonstrated by the results of the 2012 and 2014 elections, among other evidence, we conclude that Act 43 has had its intended effect. Finally, we find that the discriminatory effect is not explained by the political geography of Wisconsin nor is it justified by a legitimate state interest. Consequently, Act 43 constitutes an unconstitutional political gerrymander.
Now that the panel has issued its ruling they have asked for both sides to file briefs with the court to describe what they believe the remedy should be in this situation in the next 30 days. The case has been winding through the court system for quite some time, and the court last heard arguments six months ago. The panel is also interested in possibly hearing further testimony if either side believes that would further the case’s interests.
The director of the Campaign Legal Center, Gerry Hebert, said the decision was “truly a monumental victory for the plaintiffs in this case, but more importantly this is an historic moment for our nation and the betterment of democracy.”
There will be deep implications for the ruling, as the fight was never intended to end in Wisconsin. The plan of the Democrats was for the ruling to come down before the 2016 election, but things did not shake out that way. The wheels of justice move slowly. When the case was brought before the panel the Democrats made it known they were going to appeal the ruling, regardless of what it was, to the Supreme Court.
Rulings by the Supreme Court have been previously issued on gerrymandering in 2004 in the case of Vieth v. Jubelirer. However, Justice Anthony Kennedy ruled in favor of the gerrymandering side with his swing vote. He said he understood the implications of gerrymandering, but that there was a “lack of a manageable standard” for the court to make a determination. In other words Kennedy did not believe the court could decide what was partisan gerrymandering, and what was merely the majority party’s right to redraw voting districts — which is what the Republicans maintained in the Wisconsin case and still lost.
However, the Supreme Court is presently deadlocked with 4 liberals and 4 conservatives. Now that Donald Trump has captured the presidency he will be appointing the next Supreme Court justice to fill the seat of right-wing zealot Antonin Scalia, which does not bode well for the long-term prospects of the Wisconsin ruling being made the law of the land for all of the United States. Yet, stranger things have happened and nothing is guaranteed in a courtroom. If the Democrats are able to make a convincing argument and flip one of the conservative justices to their side, the entire issue of gerrymandering may finally be vanquished from American society forever.
Lou Colagiovanni is an investigative journalist living in Las Vegas who specializes in politics and crime. His work has been highlighted all over the world and he is regularly featured on television and radio.