WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has decided to hear a case that could clarify whether there are limits on partisan gerrymandering, an issue that could have major reverberations in the control from the House and statehouses across the country.
A lower court ruled that Wisconsin’s GOP lawmakers drew a state assembly map that was too biased against Democrats to be allowed, taking the view that overtly partisan gerrymanders aren’t legal. The Supreme Court hasn’t offered a clear view on that in the past, and after a decade in which Republican gerrymanders in many states across the country have helped them lock in dominant political control in otherwise competitive states their view could have a big impact on what politics look like in the next decade.
The justices’ Monday order suggests they’ll hear the case this fall.
Wisconsin is one of a number of big swing states including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia where Republicans won unified control after the 2010 GOP wave election and used it to draw state legislative and U.S. House maps to their liking, giving them huge advantages over controlling their own statehouses as well as a big structural advantage in holding onto the House.
Those gerrymanders have been a major, though not the only, reason Republicans have done so well in local races since 2010 (the other big reasons being that Democrats are more concentrated geographically and tend not to vote in as high numbers in off-year elections). In 2012 in Wisconsin, for example, Republicans won 60 of the state’s 99 state assembly seats even though they only won 48.6% of the statewide vote.
Anti-gerrymandering advocates celebrated the news.
“This is a historic opportunity to address one of the biggest problems facing our electoral system,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program. “Gerrymandering has become so aggressive, extreme, and effective that there is an urgent need for the Supreme Court to finally step in and set boundaries.”
The Supreme Court hasn’t considered the legality of partisan gerrymandering since 2004, when the justices failed to come to a clear conclusion about whether it was legal and what limits could be put on it.