The map "was meant to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters.by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats", wrote federal appeals court Judge Kenneth Ripple, the senior judge on the three-judge panel, adding that "the discriminatory effect is not explained by the political geography of Wisconsin nor is it justified by a legitimate state interest". If one party routinely wins landslide victories in a few seats while the other party wins much more modest yet secure margins in the vast majority, it could signify a gerrymander that has gone so far as to infringe upon the rights of voters to free speech and equal protection.
The judges disputed the state's argument that Wisconsin's natural pro-Republican political geography is the reason Democratic voters might be disadvantaged from the new maps and emphasized that their task was to determine whether the maps were justified.
The lawsuit focuses on Assembly districts, but since Senate districts are based on the Assembly maps it invalidates the maps for both chambers. These unconstitutional maps drawn in 2011 represent a direct attack on that freedom, and a successful attempt by Republicans to avoid responsiveness and accountability to their own constituents. In 2004, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said he was open to review a case of gerrymandering if the plaintiffs could develop a reliable test to measure the political maneuver's intent to squash competition.
Peter Earle, the plaintiffs' local counsel, referred to the redistricting as "disgraceful shenanigans" by Republicans and praised the panel for "removing the cancer" of partisan gerrymandering that has effected two statewide elections.
"The state of Wisconsin has competitive legislative districts that meet every traditional principle of redistricting", Vos said in his statement. As we argue in our book "Gerrymandering in America", the Republicans will win the House again in 2018 and 2020.
Republican state Attorney General Brad Schimel, whose state Justice Department defended the boundaries, issued a statement saying the agency plans to appeal and the decision doesn't affect the results of this month's elections.
The remedy sought by the plaintiffs was for the judges to create maps to replace the ones declared unconstitutional, but the judges have deferred on that.
In his dissent, the Republican-appointed Judge Griesbach noted that the Supreme Court upheld a redistricting under similar circumstance in Indiana.
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Ripple was joined by District Court Judge Barbara Crabb in the decision, with District Court Judge William Griesbach dissenting.
Redistricting challenges in federal court are unusual in that they are initially heard by a panel of three judges instead of a single judge.
Two things make the Wisconsin decision different from any other court's ruling on a gerrymandering challenge. To be fair, the maps need to be drawn in an impartial and transparent manner. One effect of the redistricting, according to plaintiff attorney Gerald Hebert, was to reduce the number of swing districts from 19 to 10.
The disputed maps divide Wisconsin into 99 assembly and 32 senate districts. Republicans likely would have retained control of the Assembly and Senate in the 2012 and 2014 elections without the new maps, he said. It would be blatantly unconstitutional to use these techniques to disenfranchise voters due to their race, but no court has previously said the techniques are unlawful when applied to disenfranchise members of a political party.
Both processes produce large numbers of wasted votes. The lower court gave a simple, clear rule for determining whether districting is created to disadvantage one party systematically.
The Wisconsin case was described by voters who brought the case as the worst example of gerrymandering in modern history, turning what would otherwise be majority votes for Democrats in the state assembly into big Republican victories. "This decision could have a monumental impact in ensuring that voters' voices are heard across the nation, regardless of party", he wrote.
The Democrats contend that they have found a way to measure unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders that are created to give an extreme and durable advantage in elections to one party, a measure that the U.S. Supreme Court has said it was lacking.
The defendants testified that their map "did not have a 'forward-looking component, ' but was simply 'an average of past elections applied to the new districts.' We reject as not worthy of belief the assertion that the drafters would have expended the time to calculate a composite score for each district on the statewide maps simply to gain an historical understanding of voting behavior", wrote Crabb and Ripple. Although the Supreme Court has ruled definitively against purposeful racial redistricting, it hasn't been as clear on political redistricting.