How a gerrymandering case in Wisconsin could affect elections in Pennsylvania

Arnold Schwarzenegger Gerrymandering

Arnold Schwarzenegger Gerrymandering

But Democrats must convince at least five justices of the U.S. Supreme Court and in particular, it seems, they must convince Justice Kennedy.

The big question, after an hour-long argument Tuesday, is what does Justice Anthony Kennedy think.

"These employees say 'We don't object to the arbitration, but what we do object to is the one-on-one, the employee against the employer'". Will that advantage last regardless of how the state swings politically to entrench one-party control? They reluctantly answered that it would, but denied this challenge fit that framework.

The US Supreme Court began its new session looking at a full slate of controversial cases, including freedom of religion and free expression, privacy in the age of the digital footprint, and partisan gerrymandering. The case could change the way state legislators draw district lines. Another was aired by an unusually candid Chief Justice John Roberts, who explained his "main problem" late in the hearing. He wrote in 2004 that he would be open to ruling for the challengers if the court could be shown a good way to measure and manage excessively partisan districts. He said Tuesday that Congress was clearly unwilling to address the issue, and that the Supreme Court would have to step in and decide on the issue. "That no such standard has emerged in this case should not be taken to prove that none will emerge in the future", Kennedy argued. Reuters reports: "A majority of the justices appeared sympathetic to the idea that immigrants held long-term should be eligible for a hearing that would let them argue for their release".

The court's liberal justices suggested sympathy for immigrants like Rodriguez who face lengthy detention. Kennedy's vote may well determine whether one's personal religious beliefs trump another's right to be treated as an equal citizen under the Constitution. Whether that means Justice Kennedy is ready to vote for limits to partisan gerrymandering remains to be seen, but if his retirement next summer is more than a rumour, Mr Smith's plea may be ringing in his ears.

When the lawyers for the state said any evaluation of a plan would necessitate the court to rely on predictions of voter behavior, Justice Elena Kagan said that would not be hard.

"What incentive is there for a voter to exercise his vote?" she asked.

The conservative justices were skeptical about striking down the state's map or even involving courts in the inherently political process of redistricting. "So, even with less than a majority of the vote, they retained control the Legislature, and they continued to do so in 2014 and 2016". Wisconsin appealed that ruling to the high court.

Pennsylvania's map, drawn in 2011, was called "the worst gerrymander in modern (state) history" by Franklin & Marshall College political scientist G. Terry Madonna and is the subject of a court challenge, filed in June by the League of Women Voters and 18 registered Democratic Party voters.

The Democratic voters who sued Wisconsin said gerrymandering is getting more extreme due to increasingly precise voter data and mapmaking technology, leaving voters with no recourse but the courts.

Consider what would happen if the courts were to adopt the following rule: Any map that maximizes partisan competitiveness in as many districts as possible - and maximizes partisan competitiveness as much as possible in all the remaining districts - would be presumed to be constitutional. The Maryland case alleges that the state's Democratic leadership drew congressional maps that put Republicans at a disadvantage.

Paul Smith, representing the plaintiff-Democrats challenging the maps, said the state is asking for "a free pass to continue using an assembly map that is so extreme that it effectively nullifies democracy".

All of that was true in Wisconsin, said Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Gerrymandering undermines the American values of democracy; of government by the people, not the politicians. What seems like a straightforward statutory test actually raises a more fundamental issue as to the vagueness of immigration statutes.

In the Wisconsin case, a panel of three federal judges ruled 2-to-1 that the state's leaders had used a secretive process for drawing the maps after the 2010 census that went too far. Or did Republicans "pack and crack" - that is, pack as many Democrats into specific boundaries so they could concentrate their voting might in a few areas, and crack the other districts so none could have enough Democrats to win district elections? In 2012, for instance, Democratic candidates won 53 percent of the statewide votes for the assembly, yet Republicans won 60 of the 99 seats.

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