By Matt Pommer, syndicated columnist for the Wisconsin Newspaper Association
Wisconsin is drawing national attention for its gerrymandering of its legislative and congressional districts.
North Carolina and Wisconsin are mentioned by reformers who want the U.S. Supreme Court to examine the impact of improved computers and data processing on gerrymandering.
Boundary lines for legislative and congressional districts are revised every 10 years after the federal census is completed. The stated goal is to have nearly equal numbers of citizens in each district.
Gerrymandering occurs when one party controls both the legislative and executive branches of government and thus the redistricting mechanics and map. In Wisconsin, that’s the Republican Party.
“Wisconsin has the most extreme partisan map in the United States,” Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, told the Los Angeles Times.
Common Cause in Wisconsin says that less than 10% of legislative seats in this state are competitive. The legislature created districts to help the GOP have 55-60% Republican leanings while the others have Democratic leanings between 70-80%.
Wisconsin’s congressional map, like some other states, was drawn with partisan goals. The latest congressional map gives Republicans four of the seven House seats. Democrats have three solid seats with the current map.
The U.S. Supreme Court sidestepped the gerrymandering issue in 2004, but Justice Anthony Kennedy seemed receptive to becoming the deciding fifth vote to take up the issue, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Improved computers and sophisticated programming may encourage Kennedy to provide a fifth vote for the high court to take up the gerrymandering matter.
Another Wisconsin issue that could bubble up in the U.S. Supreme Court is the state’s handling of coordination between political candidates who have finance limits and unregulated political action committees that have no spending limits. The issue in Wisconsin grew out of the John Doe investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign efforts.
Under the new law, candidates and the groups supporting them can, in effect, collaborate on the election efforts. The PACs don’t have to identify their donors.
The overall effect is to undermine efforts to let citizens know who is backing and financing the candidates. Reformers like Common Cause contend that cash and secrecy have become centerpieces of Wisconsin’s political scene.
Critics also target how the provisions became law. The State Supreme Court, with a conservative majority, shut down the John Doe investigation into the governor’s 2012 recall election on the underlying judicial theory that the matter was a violation of First Amendment free-speech provisions.
Critics of the court noted that the traditional court procedure is to decide on the merits of the case rather than simply offer solutions.
The GOP-controlled legislature promptly adopted the court’s legislative recommendation and Walker signed them into law.
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel now has asked the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear the John Doe case appeal, saying elected officials had solved the matter.
The odds may be against either Wisconsin case being accepted for review. The U.S. Supreme Court accepts very few cases for review.
Rejection would benefit Wisconsin Republicans. The maps assure they’ll control the legislature. The legalized coordination of PACs and candidates would help Walker’s re-election bid in 2018.