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Gerrymandering Decision Delivers an Historic Win for Democracy

Issue of the Week

Nov. 22, 2016
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In a stunning, historic 2-1 decision, on Monday a panel of federal judges struck down Wisconsin’s legislative map because it is so gerrymandered to benefit Republicans it’s unconstitutional. The three-judge panel consisted of two judges appointed by Republican presidents and one appointed by a Democratic president. 

The state’s current map, drawn in secret by Republican legislators in 2011, is so skewed to help the GOP that even when Democrats win more votes for legislative seats, they remain deep in the minority. And that, the judges concluded, is unconstitutional. 

“We find that Act 43 [the Republicans’ legislative redistricting bill] 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,” wrote U.S. Appeals Court Judge Kenneth Ripple. “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. Finally, we find that the discriminatory effect is not explained by the political geography of Wisconsin nor is it justified by a legitimate state interest. Consequently, Act 43 constitutes an unconstitutional political gerrymander.”

The 12 Democrats who filed the suit cited experts who developed an objective standard for measuring political gerrymandering, which the judges accepted for the first time. That groundbreaking standard can now be used to test gerrymandering in other states as well.

Sachin Chheda, director of the bipartisan Fair Elections Project, called the decision “a huge victory for democracy” and noted that it’s the first time in modern history a legislative map has been struck down because it’s been gerrymandered to benefit one party. 

Milwaukee attorney Peter Earle, who represented the Democratic plaintiffs, said in a statement: “This decision will finally give voters in Wisconsin the power they deserve to shape their democracy. Now a fairer system will be created here in Wisconsin so all voters, not just a select few, will be able to have their voices heard.”

The parties now have 30 days to come up with possible remedies. If the state appeals, it goes directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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