Chicago Lawyers’ Committee Praises Federal Wisconsin Gerrymander Decision

November 22, 2016
For immediate release

WISCONSIN – In a historic decision that could potentially affect unfair voting laws across the country, a three-judge panel in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin yesterday overturned Wisconsin’s state assembly district map, writing that the state assembly district map was “unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.”

The decision comes down in a case first filed by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in 2015 on behalf of Wisconsin plaintiffs suing state election officials over the state assembly district plan that Republicans drew in 2011, a map drawn specifically to disenfranchise Democratic voters.

The ruling issues yesterday states:

“We find that Act 43 was intended to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters throughout the decennial period by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats. Moreover, as demonstrated by the results of the 2012 and 2014 elections, among other evidence, we conclude that Act 43 has had its intended effect.”

In yesterday’s decision, plaintiffs succeeded in proving that a state redistricting plan is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that overly partisan maps can be unconstitutional, but it has never determined a standard for unconstitutionality. This lawsuit proposes a metric based on the three-part “efficiency gap” test.

The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee’s Director of Impact Litigation Paul Strauss said:

“This case has the potential to change politics throughout the country and become one of the most important Constitutional cases in United States history. It’s a powerful legal check on partisanship taking over the democratic process and entrenching a minority in power through manipulation of electoral boundaries.”

Partisan gerrymandering is achieved by "cracking" and "packing" districts. Cracking districts involves breaking up voters of one party across multiple districts so they don't have a majority of votes in the districts. Packing districts amounts to stuffing large number of like-minded voters into a small number of districts. In both cases, those districts produce large numbers of so-called "wasted" votes — that is, votes cast for losing candidates and votes cast in excess of those needed to elect a candidate. Using those wasted votes to calculate a redistricting plan’s “efficiency gap” allows the courts to measure the extent of partisan gerrymandering.

Using the efficiency gap metric, the lawsuit alleges that the Assembly district plan gave Republicans an efficiency gap of 13% in 2012 and 10% in 2014, making it one of the most partisan in American history.

The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee’s Executive Director Bonnie Allen said:

“We are very pleased that the Court has recognized that partisan gerrymandering is corrosive to the democratic process and upheld the Constitutional principle that gives each vote the fundamental right to be fairly and equally counted. This is an important step toward ensuring that voters choose their elected officials, and not the other way around.”

The parties now have 30 days to submit their proposals for the nature and timing of the remedial process. It will then be appealed by the State to the Supreme Court, where it will be the focus of intense attention by interested parties across the spectrum of national politics.