Voting Rights and Democracy

Gill v. Whitford

In Gill v. Whitford, the Supreme Court considered whether Wisconsin’s extreme partisan gerrymandering of its State Assembly districts violates the guarantees contained in the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

Case Summary

In 2011, the Wisconsin legislature redrew the maps for its State Assembly districts. Legislative leaders for the Republican party, which was in control of the state legislature, organized a secretive mapmaking process open only to members of that party. Meeting behind closed doors, the drafters of the plan, together with expert consultants, drew districts to ensure that their party would wield political power far in excess of votes cast in the polls, thereby maintaining their control of the Assembly no matter what happened in future elections. Twelve voters, affiliated with the Democratic party, brought suit in federal district court, claiming that this partisan gerrymandering was unacceptably partisan. A divided three-judge district court held that their line drawing process was unconstitutional and ordered the Assembly to redraw their districts.  The defendants asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, and it agreed to do so.

CAC filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of current members of Congress and bipartisan former members of Congress, arguing that such gerrymandering subordinates adherents of one political party and violates the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of political association and equal protection for all persons, regardless of their political identity.  As our brief explained, the Framers of our nation’s charter established a system of government in which the people choose their elected representatives, not the other way around, writing democratic principles into numerous aspects of the Constitution.   Buttressing our Constitution’s commitment to popular sovereignty and self-governance, the First Amendment protects the right of individuals to associate for political ends and the Fourteenth Amendment ensures that all Americans enjoy equal protection of the laws regardless of political affiliation.  Extreme partisan gerrymandering, which subordinates adherents of a disfavored political party and degrades their right to vote, cannot be squared with the text and history of the Constitution.

The Court held that the Wisconsin voters had not shown that they had Article III standing to bring the case, but remanded to the district court, so that the plaintiffs “may have an opportunity to prove concrete and particularized injuries.”  In a concurrence joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor, Justice Kagan observed that “[p]artisan gerrymandering . . . is ‘incompatible with democratic principles,’” and she noted that it “injures enough individuals and organizations in enough concrete ways to ensure that standing requirements, properly applied, will not often or long prevent courts from reaching the merits of cases like this one.”

Case Timeline

  • September 5, 2017

    CAC files amicus brief

    U.S. Sup. Ct. Amicus Brief
  • October 3, 2017

    Supreme Court hears oral argument

  • June 18, 2018

    Supreme Court issues its decision

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