June 19 (UPI) -- The issue centers on whether a party in power can redraw election districts in such a way that a minority party's First Amendment rights and the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection are violated. While the court has previously ruled that partisanship in redrawing an election map can be illegal, it has never defined the ruling party's limit in power. The case, which will be heard in the fall, could have a pronounced impact on how district lines, generally redrawn after a decennial census, can be drawn across the country.
Earlier this year a panel of three federal judges struck down Wisconsin state House district maps, drawn in 2011 by the state's Republican-majority legislature. By a 2-to-1 vote they called the division of the state into election districts so blatantly partisan that it denied Democrats a fair opportunity to have its candidates elected.
The ruling stated there was no question that "the map was designed to make it more difficult for Democrats, compared to Republicans, to translate their votes into seats. It is clear that the drafters got what they intended to get."
Democrats challenged the map as a partisan gerrymander violating the Constitution. They argued that Democratic voters were spread so thinly across the state that it was impossible for Democratic legislative candidates to be elected and achieve a majority. In other districts, Democrats were so well represented it limited voters' ability to elect Democrats in other districts.
"The Supreme Court has the opportunity to ensure the maps in Wisconsin are drawn fairly, and further, has the opportunity to create ground rules that safeguard every citizen's right to freely choose their representatives," said Paul Smith of the Campaign Legal Center, which will argue the case.
The ruling by the Supreme Court could clarify the point at which a state crosses from redrawing maps to favor the party in power, to actual violation of the Constitution.
In a case decided earlier this year, the court sided with North Carolina Democrats and civil rights organizations who argued that African-American voters in the state were largely put into only two districts. It made it easier for African-Americans to re-elect incumbents in those districts, but neutralized their votes' impact in other districts.