Wisconsin doesn’t shy away from being at the forefront. We created kindergarten, Social Security and the ice cream sundae. We rank near the top of the nation in ACT scores, binge drinking and use of the term “uff da.”
That’s why we aren’t afraid to serve as the nation’s guinea pig as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a gerrymandering case brought by the people of Wisconsin. While the term calls to mind some guy who might’ve played second base for the Milwaukee Braves in 1955 — “now batting, Gerrrrrrrrrry Manderrrrrring” — gerrymandering in fact refers to politicians drawing up voting districts for their own benefit.
“I am shocked, SHOCKED, to learn politicians would act in their own best interest, rather than serve the public good,” my nine loyal readers are no doubt saying to themselves. “Just as I was shocked to learn last week that college basketball is dirty.”
In case you’ve been too busy reading about Rick Pitino using the University of Louisville as his own personal ATM to keep up with the news from Washington, here’s the deal: The nation’s highest court is reviewing whether Wisconsin Republicans gave themselves an unfair advantage when they drew political maps after the 2010 Census.
I don’t blame the Republicans. First of all, they merely were following football coach Jerry Glanville’s golden rule of competition: “If you ain’t cheatin,’ you ain’t tryin’!” Secondly, the GOP did exactly what Democrats will do the first chance they get. In politics, an act only is considered unethical if the other side gets caught doing it. The golden rule of politics is, “Screw over others as you would have them screw over you.”
The Supreme Court could rule for the first time that districting plans that entrench one party’s control of a legislature or congressional delegation can violate the constitutional rights of the other party’s voters. That could reshape political maps nationwide. The stakes are so high, they might move a Wisconsinite to say, “Uff da.”
No one debates that Republicans have used advantages in Wisconsin and other states to gain advantages at the ballot box. The question is whether they’ve crossed a constitutional line. During a recent hearing, liberal justices appeared to favor the Democratic voters who challenged Wisconsin’s voting maps. Republicans who controlled the Legislature and the governor’s office adopted electoral maps gave themselves a significant edge in the Assembly in a state that is otherwise roughly divided between the parties. In Wisconsin, there is no debating Budweiser vs. Miller, but when it comes to politics we’re fiercely independent.
Liberal justices said the current system encourages lawmakers to stack the deck against opponents, reducing the number of legitimately contested elections. But conservative justices said they’re reluctant to get involved in the inherently political process of redistricting. The Supreme Court has never thrown out a political map because it is too partisan. This court, unlike the people of Wisconsin, is hesitant to blaze a trail.
Evidence shows Republicans packed Democrats into some districts and spread them out across others to maximize gains for the GOP. Democrats have captured far fewer state Assembly seats even when they’ve won roughly the same percentage of the statewide vote as Republicans. You don’t have to be one of the high-scoring ACT brainiacs from Wisconsin to know that doesn’t add up.
A decision is expected in spring, and may be dictated by a middle-ground justice who, like the residents of America’s Dairyland, displays an independent streak. Interest is high, with lawsuits over political maps moving through the courts in other states.
I hope the court forces both parties, in this state and beyond, to play fair. That’s a virtue everyone learned after Wisconsin took the lead and invented kindergarten.