The U.S. Supreme Court is about to
hear a case involving a politically corrupt action by the Republican-controlled
Wisconsin Legislature that has the potential to become a landmark voting rights
case for the nation. Whether it does or not will depend upon whether the
Supreme Court is finally ready to outlaw the corrupt practice of partisan
political gerrymandering. And, of course, that depends upon just how corrupt
and politically partisan Supreme Court justices themselves are these days.
Both political parties have
engaged in corrupt political gerrymandering historically. Wisconsin Republicans
under Gov. Scott Walker have simply carried it to such outrageous extremes
they’ve attracted serious legal scrutiny.
Every 10 years, after the U.S.
completes a new census, states redraw the boundaries of legislative districts
to reflect population changes. The 2010 census coincided with a tea party
backlash election giving Walker and Republicans unchecked power to do their
worst—and they did.
While hundreds of thousands were
demonstrating outside the Capitol against destruction of union bargaining
rights, an even more far-reaching attack on democracy was quietly taking place
right across the street in the private offices of the Republicans’ law firm of
Michael Best & Friedrich. Computer experts used sophisticated software
calculating the effects of even the tiniest changes in the boundaries of the
state’s 99 assembly districts and 33 state senate seats. After moving lines to
squeeze every possible victory out of those districts, Republicans actually
wiped hard drives to try to cover up what they’d done.
of Wisconsin Voters
A panel of three federal judges
that ruled Wisconsin Republicans unconstitutionally violated the voting rights
of Wisconsin citizens issued a stinging rebuke to legislators and their
attorneys for trying to withhold evidence.
“Quite frankly, the Legislature
and the actions of its counsel give every appearance of flailing wildly in a
desperate attempt to hide from both the court and the public the true nature of
exactly what transpired in the redistricting process,” U.S. District Judge J.P.
Stadtmueller wrote. A forensics expert was able to use computer spreadsheets to
trace Republican redistricting that began with existing maps that would have
allowed Republicans to win only 49 of 99 Assembly seats.
In the final decision,
Stadtmueller wrote that after numerous manipulations of the maps Republicans
were able to create new assembly districts so “Republicans would maintain a
majority under any likely voting scenario; indeed, they would maintain a
54-seat majority while garnering only 48% of the statewide vote.”
Winning Even When They Lose
Get that? Even if Republicans won
less than a majority of the vote statewide, they could still win 54 seats in
the Assembly to only 45 seats for Democrats. Actually, the judge underestimated
the success of the Republicans’ corrupt redistricting. The disputed maps were
used in the 2012 election while legal appeals continued and the results were
even worse. Republicans did win just more than 48% of the vote statewide: less
than a majority. As a result, Republicans won 60 Assembly seats and Democrats
Creating a 20-vote majority in one
legislative chamber for the losing party statewide is a drastic distortion of
democracy. It also violates the Supreme Court’s constitutional principle of
“one person, one vote” by giving far greater weight to the votes of Republicans
statewide than to those of Democrats who actually voted in greater numbers in
This is achieved by the well-known
and corrupt gerrymandering tactics of “packing and cracking”—packing voters
from the opposition party into the fewest districts possible and spreading the
rest of them across so many different districts they can never determine the
outcome of an election. Most district elections are over before they start.
Legislators choose their voters rather than voters choosing their legislators.
Such a corrupt result should be of
concern to every Republican and Democrat who believes in democracy. In fact,
many Republicans these days don’t even bother denying gerrymandering is wrong.
They simply say Democrats would do the same if they had the chance. (In
Maryland, Republicans are challenging corrupt gerrymandering by majority
Democrats.) If both parties are politically incapable of upholding the
principles of democracy and drawing districts to fairly represent the voting
populations of their states, that’s exactly when the U.S. Supreme Court should
step in to protect the constitutional rights of every American.
Until now, however, the Supreme
Court has intervened to stop corrupt state redistricting when it’s been shown
to be racially biased, but it’s been reluctant to act in cases based upon
extreme partisan political bias. This could be the perfect time for a landmark
voting rights case for two big reasons: One is simply the enormity of the
gerrymandering in Wisconsin—seriously, a 20-seat Assembly majority won by
the losing party statewide; the other is the efficiency of
computerized gerrymandering puts such extreme political corruption within reach
of any state.
The political corruption isn’t in
question, only whether or not a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court has enough
integrity to do anything about it.