The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling today in Gill v. Whitford, a Democratic challenge to Wisconsin’s legislative maps, that said the Democrats lacked the standing to sue in federal court. The Court referred the case back to the lower courts asking the plaintiffs in the case to show that they have suffered individual harm in the legislative redistricting case.
Rick Esenberg, President of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, said Monday that while the Supreme Court did not issue a definitive ruling on redistricting and so-called Gerrymandering, the Court has made it very difficult for Democrats to proceed with their challenge to Wisconsin’s legislative district maps.
“While I think it’s fair to say, as many people are saying, that the Court punted on this,” Esenberg told Steve Scaffidi on WTMJ on Monday, “I think that punt has pinned plaintiffs inside the five yard line. And they’re going to have a very, very difficult time establishing that they have standing on remand.”
The Supreme Court’s decision to remand the Wisconsin redistricting case to the lower courts was unanimous. In addition to supporting the decision to remand the case, Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch would have remanded the case with instructions to dismiss.
“After a year and a half of litigation in the District Court, including a 4-day trial, the plaintiffs had a more-than-ample opportunity to prove their standing under these principles,” Thomas wrote. “They failed to do so. Accordingly, I would have remanded this case with instructions to dismiss.”
The victory for Wisconsin Republicans was a blow to Democratic hopes of recapturing the legislature before the 2020 census. State legislative and congressional district boundaries are re-drawn after every decennial census by the state legislature and the governor. Democrats have been complaining about Wisconsin’s district lines ever since Republicans redrew them following the 2010 election and census. However, prior to 2010, Democrats controlled both houses of the legislature and had a Democratic governor, but they did not reform the redistricting process in Wisconsin either in anticipation of being to redraw the district lines for their advantage following the census.
Redistricting has become an issue in Wisconsin elections again as former Obama Administration Attorney General Eric Holder’s organization National Democratic Redistricting Committee has spent money in both this year’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election in support of Justice-elect Rebecca Dallet and in the special election in Senate district 1. In addition, Holder’s group sued the state of Wisconsin and Governor Scott Walker to force the governor to call special elections in Senate district 1 and Assembly District 42 despite the legislature ending its session, making the elections meaningless.
Democrats have claimed that because their representation in the legislature is not proportional to the amount of votes they receive statewide, the district lines are unconstitutional. However, Democratic claims do not take into account past Court decisions requiring minority-majority districts, the compactness of the Democratic vote in Wisconsin, and the differences from district to district in the strengths of the various political campaigns.
Despite Democratic claims that Republican redistricting has made it impossible for them to win a majority, Democrats have already won two Senate special elections this year in two districts that went heavily for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, Senate district 1 and Senate district 10.
Esenberg explained just how difficult it will be for Wisconsin Democrats to claim standing in the case going forward.
“Here’s the problem: the Court made clear that an individual’s claim of vote dilution cannot be based on the fact that maps have been drawn in a way that diminishes the statewide prospects for that voter’s preferred political party,” Esenberg said in a release Monday. “The majority held that the plaintiffs interest ‘in their collective representation in the legislature,’ and in influencing the legislature’s overall ‘composition and policymaking’ does not constitute ‘an individual and personal injury’ of the kind required for Article III standing.”
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel praised the Court’s ruling on Monday.
“I am pleased that the highest court in the land has unanimously reversed the trial court’s erroneous decision invalidating Wisconsin’s Assembly map,” Schimel said in a statement released Monday. “Today is win for the rule of law in Wisconsin, and a testament to the talented attorneys at the Wisconsin Department of Justice.”