The Supreme Court will take up the most important gerrymandering case in more than a decade, it announced Monday.
The case involves district lines in Wisconsin that challengers say were drawn unconstitutionally to benefit Republicans. The case could have a major impact on how district lines are drawn up nationwide.
The court has said that too much partisanship in map drawing is illegal, but it has never said how much is too much.
Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law, told CNN that this case could have “enormous ramifications.”
“Although a majority of the court has suggested that states can violate the Constitution if they draw legislative districts primarily to benefit one political party, the justices have never been able to identify the specific point at which states cross the constitutional line. In this case, a lower court held that Wisconsin had indeed crossed that line,” he told CNN.
He continued: “If the justices agree, it would be the first time the court has articulated a constitutional rule in this context, which could – and likely would – have enormous ramifications nationwide.”
“This will be the biggest and most important election law case in decades. However the Court rules will affect elections for years to come,” Josh Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law who specializes in election law and voting rights, told CNN.
The court – after orders were released – issued a separate order granting Wisconsin’s request to freeze the current maps until the Supreme Court hears the case next term. The order was 5-4. This move is a victory for Wisconsin.
This is the second time justices have acted on gerrymandering this year.
Earlier this year, justices sided with Democrats and civil rights groups who challenged the North Carolina maps arguing that they unnecessarily packed African-Americans into two districts. This made it easier for African-Americans to re-elect incumbents to those two seats, but diluted their votes in surrounding areas.
“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.”