October 3, 2017

McCain, Whitehouse Issue Joint Statement Calling on SCOTUS to End Hyper-Partisan Gerrymandering

Senators submitted brief in Whitford v. Gill

Washington, DC – With the Supreme Court hearing oral arguments in Whitford v. Gill today, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, issued the following statement urging the Court to help end hyper-partisan gerrymandering:

The American people do not like gerrymandering.  It leaves them feeling powerless and discouraged; that their votes are wasted and voices silenced.  They see it rigging our political system to favor special interests.

‎We see the same from our vantage point.  American democracy ought to reflect the will of the people.  Elections ought to belong to the people.  Increasingly uncompetitive and unrepresentative districts have a corrosive effect on the American democratic process.  Partisan gerrymandering distorts statewide votes, dilutes the effect of votes based on political affiliation, and leads to the election of congressional and state legislative delegations that do not represent the will of the voters.  Districts become safe because they are drawn to be politically uniform, and in such districts, an incumbent’s biggest threat is often a primary challenge from a more extreme member of his or her own party.  This threat makes legislators reluctant to work across the aisle and support bipartisan legislation, and worsens the hyper-partisanship that paralyzes governance and weakens public trust in democratic institutions.

The Court can clean up a cause of America’s crisis in confidence in our democracy, protect our elections from wildly partisan “bulk” gerrymandering, and return control of our elections to the people.  We hope the Court will.

Whitford concerns the Wisconsin state legislature’s 2011 redistricting map.  In 2015, a group of Wisconsin voters challenged the map in federal court as an excessively partisan gerrymander barred by the Constitution.  Last year, a lower court ruled that the map violates both the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the plaintiffs’ First Amendment freedom of association. 

Whitford will force the Court to revisit its 2004 decision in Vieth v. Jubelirer, where it acknowledged the constitutional problems posed by excessively partisan gerrymandering but declined to intervene, lacking an easily manageable judicial standard.  Now, the lower court ruling in Whitford has articulated exactly such a test, offering a “clear roadmap” for other courts to use by requiring evidence of discriminatory intent, a large and durable discriminatory effect, and a lack of a legitimate justification.  

A copy of the Senators’ brief can be accessed here.


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