WASHINGTON, June 19, 2017 – The U.S. Supreme Court today said they would hear oral arguments in a case that could curb partisan gerrymandering nationwide. Campaign Legal Center attorneys along with co-counsel represent 12 Wisconsin voters in the landmark case Gill v. Whitford, which challenges Wisconsin’s Assembly district lines as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.
“A federal three-judge panel rightfully held that Wisconsin lawmakers drew maps for the benefit of their own political party, with little regard for the will of the voters,” said Paul Smith, vice president of litigation and strategy at the Campaign Legal Center who will argue the case before the Supreme Court. “Partisan gerrymandering of this kind is worse now than at any time in recent memory. The Supreme Court has the opportunity to ensure the maps in Wisconsin are drawn fairly, and further, has the opportunity to create ground rules that safeguard every citizen’s right to freely choose their representatives,”
Last month, the Campaign Legal Center filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to affirm the lower court’s ruling striking down Wisconsin’s 2011 State Assembly map as unconstitutional. On Nov. 21, 2016, Judge Kenneth Francis Ripple, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote the majority opinion for the panel which found that Wisconsin’s State Assembly district map violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The panel reached this conclusion after conducting a full trial on the matter, hearing extensive evidence from both sides.
“The threat of partisan gerrymandering isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue; it’s an issue for all American voters,” said Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center, and former Republican Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. “Across the country, we’re witnessing legislators of both parties seizing power from voters in order to advance their purely partisan purposes. We’re confident that when the justices see how pervasive and damaging this practice has become, the Supreme Court will adopt a clear legal standard that will ensure our democracy functions as it should.”
Wisconsin’s partisan gerrymander – created in 2011 by legislative aides and hired consultants in a secret room in a private law office – employed the latest mapping technology to create a district plan that is one of the most extremely gerrymandered state legislative plans in the last four decades. As a result, 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.
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“I’m grateful the Supreme Court will hear our case and listen to our stories of how we are harmed,” said Wendy Sue Johnson, one of the 12 plaintiffs challenging the Wisconsin State Assembly Districts in Whitford. “No matter which side of the aisle you’re on, we should all be able to agree on one thing: as voters in a democracy we should have the right to freely choose our representatives rather than endure a system where politicians manipulate our district lines, dilute our votes, and choose their own constituents. The Supreme Court’s ruling could give us back our right to have our vote count.”
Partisan gerrymandering nationwide is more acute than ever before. According to University of Chicago Law Professor Nick Stephanopoulos, four of the five most gerrymandered state legislative maps on partisan grounds in the last 45 years—as well as eight of the 10 statewide maps for the U.S. House of Representatives–were drawn since 2010.
This case represents the first time in 31 years that a lower court struck down a district plan as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.
Learn more about CLC’s efforts on behalf of the 12 plaintiffs in Whitford here.
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, Michele L. Odorizzi of Mayer Brown, Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos of the University of Chicago Law School and Jessica R. Amunson of Jenner & Block.