Ruling Could Affect Gerrymandering Nationwide

Nov 26, 2016

Matt Streb, political science professor
Credit Northern Illinois University

Some important events happened this week.

The Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq hit record highs. And President-elect Donald Trump continued to announce his cabinet picks.

But a federal court ruling could have even more far-reaching effects.

A three-judge panel ruled Wisconsin's 2011 redistricting law unconstitutional -- a move that could affect the redistricting process in every state where lawmakers draw political maps.

In a 2-1 ruling, the panel said Wisconsin's districts, drawn by Republicans, unfairly affected Democratic voters.

“This is a huge ruling," says Matt Streb, a political science professor at Northern Illinois University. “You have a court saying that partisan gerrymandering is a problem.”

Previous rulings focused on gerrymanders affecting racial and ethnic minorities, not minority parties. Monday's ruling said the Wisconsin Legislature’s re-map violated the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. That’s because it meant to deprive Democratic voters of their right to proper representation.

The ruling is a first for the nation. “They have never to this point found a partisan gerrymander to be so egregious that they’ve thrown it out,” Streb says. He adds the judges identified a formula for determining a partisan gerrymander based on the percentage of wasted votes -- another first.

Streb says the Supreme Court probably will take up the case. But those who want to keep powerful incumbents from drawing districts might be disappointed. That's because this case wouldn't change the process used in Wisconsin and other states.

"The state legislature in Illinois is still going to draw the district map and the governor will sign it," Streb says, "but the types of plans that are put forth would have to be different."

Monday's ruling may not affect you right away, though it will have an immediate effect on Streb:

"I'm going to have to go back and rewrite my lecture for redistricting," he says.