by Tim Ryan, Courthouse News
With the Supreme Court set to hear a potentially landmark-setting case on partisan gerrymandering next month, a poll released Monday shows that most Americans want the judicial branch’s input.
While just 15 percent of those surveyed said they would oppose the Supreme Court coming up with a test to find politicians have violated the Constitution by drawing legislative districts to favor their own party, 71 percent of likely voters said they would support “new, clear rules” from the country’s top court.
The numbers came Monday from the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group that will be arguing before the justices in three short weeks against a Wisconsin legislative map that a team of federal judges found unconstitutional.
Saying support for Supreme Court intervention ran across party lines, the center notes that 80 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of Independents and 65 percent of Republicans all called for Supreme Court input on gerrymandering.
The poll found 62 percent of likely voters surveyed would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supports partisan gerrymandering, compared with just 10 percent who said they would be more likely to do so.
These findings could come into play on Oct. 3 when the Supreme Court holds oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, the first purely partisan gerrymandering case to go to trial in 30 years.
Judges who heard Whitford found 2-1 last year that a 2011 district map drawn by Republicans for Wisconsin’s state legislature was made specifically to disadvantage Democrats.
Despite receiving only 49 percent of the statewide vote in 2012, Republicans won 60 percent of the seats in the State Assembly that year.
Though the lower court struck down the gerrymandered map, the Supreme Court put that order on hold this past June pending the upcoming appeal.
Emphasizing the role of public opinion in Supreme Court cases, the Campaign Legal Center’s executive director pointed to past battles over gay marriage and the death penalty.
“We think that it really matters to the justices what the people – we the people – think about the way our democracy functions,” Gerry Hebert, who argued Whitford in the lower courts, said Monday at a press conference. “And when it’s fundamentally flawed, as it is now as a result of extreme gerrymandering, that the court will pay heed to those results.”
Unlike with racial gerrymandering cases, there is no strong legal test for when a court can find a partisan gerrymander unconstitutional, meaning the Supreme Court’s decision in the case could resound across the country.
“What we’re asking [the court] to do is not to force legislatures in dozens of states across the country to rewrite their maps as some of our opponents have argued to the Supreme Court,” Hebert said at a press conference Monday. “No, what we’re doing is we’re trying to set an outward limit on how far legislatures can go in manipulating maps and rigging the outcomes.”
The poll surveyed 1,000 likely voters between Aug. 26 and Aug. 31 and was conducted by the Democratic strategy firm Lake Research Partners and WPA Intelligence, whose leaders have worked on the campaigns of Republicans like Sens. Ted Cruz and Joni Ernst.
“Voters overwhelmingly want to remove partisan bias from redistricting and that’s true even for the partisans and even if it means, explicitly stated, that their party will not win as many seats,” Celinda Lake, the president of Lake Research Partners, said at a press conference Monday.