Justices to Hear Major Challenge to Partisan Gerrymandering

The order granted a request to stay a decision by a lower court, which had struck down a legislative map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, while the Supreme Court considers the case. The court’s four liberal members — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — dissented. Justice Kennedy was in the majority.

In a 2004 concurrence, Justice Kennedy wrote that he might consider a challenge to political gerrymanders if there were “a workable standard” to decide when they crossed a constitutional line. But he said he had not seen such a standard.

The challengers in the new case, Gill v. Whitford, No. 16-1161, say they have found a way to separate partisanship from the many other factors that influence how districts are drawn.

The case arrives at the court in the wake of Republican victories in state legislatures that allowed lawmakers to draw election maps favoring their party.

The case started when Republicans gained complete control of Wisconsin’s government in 2010 for the first time in more than 40 years. It was a redistricting year, and lawmakers promptly drew a map for the State Assembly that helped Republicans convert very close statewide vote totals into lopsided legislative majorities.

In 2012, Republicans won 48.6 percent of the statewide vote for Assembly candidates but captured 60 of the Assembly’s 99 seats. In 2014, 52 percent of the vote yielded 63 seats.

Last year, a divided three-judge Federal District Court panel ruled that Republicans had gone too far. The map, Judge Kenneth F. Ripple wrote for the majority, “was designed to make it more difficult for Democrats, compared to Republicans, to translate their votes into seats.”

The decision was the first from a federal court in more than 30 years to reject a voting map as partisan gerrymandering.

The new standard proposed by the challengers tries to measure the level of partisanship in…

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