Monday, November 21, 2016

Federal Court Strikes Down Wisconsin State Redistricting Plan

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Federal courts have struck down Virginia's GOP gerrymandered congressional districts.  The case challenging Virginia's state redistricting plan is still pending and, if the plan is struck down, could strike a major blow to GOP power in the Virginia General Assembly.  Similar challenges are pending in other states.  Today, Wisconsin's GOP gerrymandered redistricting was struck down and found to be unconstitutional.   The fear, of course, is that as Donald Trump potentially stacks the U.S. Supreme Court with right wing extremists, such victories could be overturned and the GOP agenda of effectively disenfranchising voters rejuvenated.  Here are highlights from the Wisconsin State Journal on today's ruling:
A panel of federal judges on Monday ruled that Wisconsin’s 2011 legislative redistricting plan, created by Republican leaders virtually in secret, is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.
The map “was intended 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.
“Consequently, Act 43 constitutes an unconstitutional political gerrymander,” Ripple wrote.
The 116-page decision, with a 40-page dissent from U.S. District Judge William Griesbach, was issued several months after the panel heard testimony in federal court in Madison. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, the third judge on the panel, joined Ripple in the court’s 2-1 decision.
The panel did not say what should happen as a result of its ruling. Instead, the court ordered both sides to file briefs on an appropriate remedy within 30 days, with response briefs to follow 15 days later. 
The ruling comes nearly six months after the judges heard arguments in the case, brought by a group of state Democratic voters who have called the 2011 redistricting plan “one of the worst partisan gerrymanders in modern American history.”
The Democrats contend they have found a way to measure unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders designed to give a “large and durable” advantage in elections to one party — a measure the U.S. Supreme Court said was lacking in previous redistricting cases. The measure, called the efficiency gap, shows how cracking (breaking up blocs of Democratic voters) and packing (concentrating Democrats within certain districts) results in wasted votes — excess votes for the winners in safe districts and perpetually inadequate votes for the losers.
Lawyers for the Democrats said the 2011 plan, which changed boundaries for all of the state’s Congressional and state Senate and Assembly districts, was drawn specifically to disenfranchise Democratic voters.
In its ruling, the two-judge majority rejected the state’s contention that partisan scores determined by GOP map-makers were created simply to gain a historical understanding of voter behavior. The maps were created in a tightly controlled room at the Madison law office of Michael Best & Friedrich, and Democrats were not allowed to take part in the process.
“Their measure was only useful to them,” Ripple wrote, “and the exercise of calculating the composite was only worth the effort, if it helped them assess how Republican representatives in the newly created districts likely would fare in future elections.”
The new map secured a majority for Republicans by allocating votes in such a way that in any likely election scenario, the number of GOP seats wouldn’t drop below 50 percent.

Hopefully, Virginia's GOP gerrymandered redistricting meets a similar fate well in advance of the state elections in November 2017.

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