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US Supreme Court to Hear Contentious Political Boundaries Case

  • Ken Bredemeier

FILE - The Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, D.C, April 4, 2017. In an era of deep partisan division, the court could soon decide whether the drawing of electoral districts can be too political.

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to consider whether state lawmakers can be too partisan when they set the geographic boundaries of federal congressional districts, giving themselves an unfair advantage over their political opponents.

The country's top court said Monday that later in the year it would consider a dispute in the midwestern state of Wisconsin, where Republican lawmakers drew maps that gave them a political advantage over Democrats.

A three-judge panel, in a 2-1 decision, struck down the Republican-drawn maps, ruling in favor of Democrats who contested the legality of the political boundaries. The lower court ruled the districts had to be reshaped in time for the next round of congressional contests in November 2018.

But the Wisconsin state government appealed the ruling, leading to the decision by the Supreme Court to hear the dispute.

The Supreme Court has frequently considered whether political boundaries work to the disadvantage of racial minorities in attempts to win representation in Congress. But the court has only infrequently dealt with the issue of deliberate partisan shaping of political boundaries. Rulings in 1986 and 2004 left state lawmakers with no clear guidelines on what was permissible.

In the United States, congressional district boundaries are usually reset by state legislatures every 10 years, after the latest national census, with each of the 50 states getting at least one seat in the House of Representatives and each of the 435 seats divided by roughly equal population.

Political parties that have control of the state legislatures have the upper hand in setting the congressional boundaries and often try to shape them geographically to give themselves maximum political advantage in electing their candidates. The question in the Wisconsin case is whether Republicans set reasonable boundaries or unfairly disadvantaged rival Democrats.

A definitive Supreme Court ruling would set standards for redistricting throughout the country.

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