This week SCOTUS heard oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, the case out of Wisconsin that may finally see the Court do a little legal smackdown on political gerrymandering. It’s long overdue, to be sure. It was expected that the justices that usually lean left (Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer, and Ginsburg) would be asking tough questions, but centrist Anthony Kennedy also joined in on the fun grilling Wisconsin’s attorneys.
These 5 justices made it clear that they’re not a fan of partisan gerrymandering. When the GOP draw district lines designed to dilute the power of Democratic votes, they are punishing those who vote Republican. Which is a big no-no under the First Amendment’s freedom of expression and association. It’s one of the pillars of our Constitution that the government can’t punish political views, and SCOTUS is sending the message that they think that’s exactly what Wisconsin’s GOP majority did in this case. The best quote of the day came from Sonia Sotomayor:
“Could you tell me what the value is to democracy from political gerrymandering? How does that help our system of government?”
Erin E. Murphy, the lawyer speaking on behalf of Wisconsin’s (very gerrymandered) State Senate, didn’t have a good answer for that. So Sotomayor pressed:
“It’s OK to stack the decks so that for 10 years—or an indefinite period of time—one party, even though it gets a minority of votes, can get … the majority of seats?”
Because that’s the long game that Republicans have been playing for decades. By gerrymandering all sorts of Democratic districts in state elections they diluted the votes to make sure that the state legislatures would be GOP majority. Take Wisconsin: Wisconsin Republicans received 52 percent of the vote and won 63 of 99 seats in the State Assembly. That’s much more than the percentage. That’s what we call a stacked deck.
Sometimes oral arguments don’t send a message either way of how SCOTUS is going to rule, here, they most certainly did. And it’s not a moment too soon.
Watch an interview with Justice Sonia Sotomayor here:
Feature image via YouTube screengrab