Professor Bill Whitford’s federal lawsuit against partisan gerrymandering

Case likely headed to Supreme Court

Twelve Wisconsin voters are challenging the constitutionality of the state’s Republican-drawn legislative maps.

Bill WhitfordBill Whitford, a UW Law professor emeritus, is lead plaintiff in Whitford v. Gill, formerly Whitford v. Nichol. His group accuses state GOP leaders of using a political tactic known as gerrymandering when they redrew district lines in 2011. Incumbents carved up state legislative districts unfairly to stack the deck against Democratic candidates in coming elections, the suit claims.

In 1986, the Supreme Court said that litigants alleging redistricting abuse must prove “both intentional discrimination against an identifiable political group, and an actual discriminatory effect on that group.” Lawsuits of this kind have yet to meet with success, but Whitford contends the plaintiffs have proven both intent and effect.

“In a democracy citizens are supposed to choose their legislators. In Wisconsin, legislators have chosen their voters, through redistricting that makes it practically impossible for Democrats to capture a majority in the state Assembly, no matter how many votes they get statewide for Democrat candidates,” he says. “It is time for the Supreme Court to step in and restore democracy.”

Supreme Court justices have not agreed on a standard for assessing the discriminatory effect of alleged gerrymanders. Whitford’s group has proposed a new test, called the “efficiency gap,” that they say measures the discriminatory effect of any districting plan. By this test, Wisconsin’s current districting is one of the most discriminatory in the past 40 years, Whitford says.

The case, which has survived two motions to dismiss, was tried in May before the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. A three-judge panel is expected to make a decision later this summer. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is anticipated, no matter how the district court decides.

–Tammy Kempfert