The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a challenge to Wisconsin’s political maps. Justices ruled that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing and failed to prove that individual rights were violated. The case now goes back to a federal district court.
The decision virtually guarantees the current political boundaries will be in place for the fall elections.
In sending the case back to a federal district court, the justices left open the possibility that they could hear it again next session, if the plaintiffs present new evidence.
One of the plaintiffs in the case is UW-Madison Law Professor Emeritus Bill Whitford. He’s one of a dozen Democrats who sued in 2015, alleging that the way Republican lawmakers drew the state’s political boundaries violates the Voting Rights Act.
Whitford says he’s disappointed with the ruling. But, he says the plaintiffs intend to tweak their arguments at the lower court level, then take the case again to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“It’s not a complete victory of course but there’s a lot to be encouraged about. Justice Roberts and Justice Kagan both indicate they want some additional evidence in the record, but our lawyers are not going to have any difficulty in introducing that evidence,” Whitford says.
Justices ruled that the plaintiffs were trying to show that the maps violate the rights of all state voters – instead of showing how the maps affect them individually. Rick Esenberg of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a “Friend of the Court” brief in the case, siding with the Republican state lawmakers who crafted the maps. He says Democratic voters, naturally, are more geographically concentrated in the state than Republican voters – and he’s convinced that the current maps will stand.
“For the most part, a majority of the court has never been able to come up with a particularly good test for determining whether or not something that we know is going to happen every time a map is drawn, the party in power is going to try to benefit themselves. How much is too much?” Esenberg says.
The next session of the U.S. Supreme Court begins in October. Because of that, any potential future rulings on whether Wisconsin’s maps are constitutional wouldn’t take place until after the fall elections. That’s according to UW-Madison Political Science Professor Barry Burden.
“That actually provides some relief in a way, there’s a little bit of time here for the defense and the plaintiffs to regroup and litigate this and maybe have it settled in time for the 2020 round of elections,” he says.
Justices Monday also ruled against Republican voters in Maryland who argued that a Congressional district was unfairly drawn to favor Democrats. Just like in Wisconsin, the high court sent the Maryland case back to a lower court.