WASHINGTON The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide whether the U.S. Constitution limits how far lawmakers can go to redraw voting districts to favor one political party over another in a case that could have huge consequences for American elections.
The high court has been willing to invalidate state electoral maps on the grounds of racial discrimination, as it did on May 22 when it found that Republican legislators in North Carolina had drawn two electoral districts to diminish the statewide political clout of black voters.
But the justices have not thrown out state electoral maps drawn simply to give one party an advantage over another.
The justices will take up Wisconsin’s appeal of a lower court ruling last November that state Republican lawmakers violated the Constitution when they created state legislative districts with the partisan aim of hobbling Democrats in legislative races. The case will be one of the biggest heard by the Supreme Court during its term that begins in October.
The case involves a long-standing practice known as gerrymandering, a term meaning manipulating electoral boundaries for an unfair political advantage. The lower court ruled that the Republican-led legislature’s redrawing of state legislative districts in 2011 amounted to “an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.”
A panel of three federal judges in Madison ruled 2-1 that the way the Republicans redrew the districts violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection under the law and free speech by undercutting the ability of Democratic voters to turn their votes into seats in Wisconsin’s legislature.
In a possible sign of deep ideological divisions among the nine justices over the issue, the court’s conservative majority granted Wisconsin’s request, despite opposition from the four liberal justices, to put on hold the lower court’s order requiring the state to redraw its electoral maps by Nov. 1.