U.S. Supreme Court sends Wisconsin redistricting case back to district court

Photo by Saiyna Bashir, The Capital Times

Dems are continuing to call for nonpartisan redistricting legislation following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to send back a challenge to the state’s Republican-drawn maps to federal district court.

Meanwhile, Republicans celebrated the unanimous opinion to return the case to a lower court — a decision that leaves the maps intact ahead of the November elections.

The 41-page decision, which rules the Democratic plaintiffs in the case lack standing while failing to address the broader issue of partisan gerrymandering, comes yesterday after the court heard oral arguments in the case last October. Before that, a three-judge panel in 2016 had ruled the maps Republicans drew in 2011 amounted to an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz called on the Legislature and the “next Governor” to pursue redistricting overhaul legislation to “end seven years of Republican gerrymandering.”

“Republicans have worked to preserve power and avoid accountability at every turn over the course of the last seven years. This case has brought national attention to Wisconsin. Wisconsinites know that voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around,” the Oshkosh Dem said.

Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said in a joint statement they’re “confident with the U.S. Supreme Court guidance, the lower court will find the Democrat activists’ case is without merit.”

“Democrats have been using the maps as an excuse for their failure to connect with Wisconsin voters,” they said. “We believe the redistricting process we undertook seven years ago fulfilled our constitutional duty, and followed all applicable laws and standards that are required in redistricting.”

Chief Justice John Roberts in today’s 9-0 opinion wrote the justices will return the case to the lower court for the plaintiffs to provide “concrete and particularized” evidence that would show Wisconsin’s political lines affect their votes.

The 12 Democratic voters who brought the suit challenged the maps of all 99 Wisconsin Assembly districts, arguing they were harmed on a statewide level by the district lines, because the party lacks the same opportunity Republicans have to elect representatives of their choice.

But the court called the plaintiffs’ concerns “district specific,” writing that if some districts were unconstitutional, the solution “does not necessarily require restructuring all of the State’s legislative districts.”

The opinion noted while plaintiffs’ failure to demonstrate standing usually leads to dismissal, the justices chose not to do so, because this case “concerns an unsettled kind of claim this Court has not agreed upon.”

“We therefore remand the case to the District Court so that the plaintiffs may have an opportunity to prove concrete and particularized injuries using evidence–unlike the bulk of the evidence presented thus far–that would tend to demonstrate a burden on their individual votes,” Roberts wrote.

See the opinion. 

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