The U.S. Supreme Court recently held in Rucho v. Common Cause that partisan gerrymandering claims are nonjusticiable political questions. As a result, plaintiffs and defendants agreed to dismiss the redistricting case Gill v. Whitford, which challenged Wisconsin’s state legislative district maps.
The 5-4 Supreme Court decision dismissed the plaintiffs’ arguments that redistricting maps in North Carolina and Maryland violated the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, the Elections Clause, and Article I § 2 of the U.S. Constitution. The Court held that the Constitution does not prohibit partisan intent in redistricting. Furthermore, the court could not determine any judicially enforceable limits on partisan motivation in districting maps and instead left the option for reforms to redistricting processes to Congress and state legislatures.
In 2018, after the Supreme Court initially ruled they lacked standing, Wisconsin plaintiffs in Gill refiled their federal redistricting case against the 2010 map drawn by Assembly Republicans. The plaintiffs, all Democratic voters from Wisconsin, argued similarly to the Rucho plaintiffs that the map violated their rights to association and equal protection because it unfairly diminished their chances to achieve a majority and resultant legislative outcomes.
While the Supreme Court’s initial Gill decision addressed standing, the Rucho decision addressed whether the merits of partisan gerrymandering claims are justiciable questions. After the Rucho court declared partisan gerrymandering claims nonjusticiable, the Wisconsin plaintiffs and defendants in the Gill both agreed to dismiss the refiled case without deciding the merits.
As a result of the Rucho decision, any reforms to redistricting processes in Wisconsin must come from the legislature. Wisconsin Democrats have introduced a bill that would authorize the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau to draw redistricting maps. However, the bill is unlikely to move in the Republican-controlled Legislature.