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SCOTUS's Look At Wisconsin Gerrymandering Could Affect Utah

davidevison, istock

The Supreme Court will hear arguments this fall in what could be a blockbuster case on political redistricting for states across the country. 

The case is called Gill vs. Whitford. At issue is whether partisanship played too big a role when Republicans in Wisconsin redrew political boundaries in 2011. 

The justices will consider the constitutionality of redrawing political maps based on partisanship, the first time in a decade the court has taken on such a case.

“It’s a big deal," says Tim Chambless, a political science professor at the University of Utah, who teaches the history of gerrymandering and redistricting in the U.S. 

He says a decision will likely be a close one, but could have major implications for states like Utah, which are largely controlled by one party.

“That’s going to impact both Wisconsin, which has a history of being politically balanced...but also the state of Utah, which until four decades ago was very balanced,” he says. 

Chambless notes Utah had Democratic governors for 20 years throughout the '70s and '80s. And the state legislature regularly changed hands before more gerrymandered maps became the norm.

In 2011, Utah lawmakers were criticized after dividing Salt Lake, which leans blue, into four pie-shaped congressional districts that skewed Republican.

That has led to a proposed ballot initiative for 2018 called “Better Boundaries,” which will seek to create a bipartisan commission in the state to oversee those drawing the maps.

Chambless believes that initiative could gain momentum depending on the Supreme Court’s decision.

“Yes, the Republican Party is the powerful party and the Democratic Party is the minority party, but, again, people self-identify as being fiercely independent,” he says. 

Although arguments are scheduled for October, the justices may not issue their opinion until next summer.

Hear more of our interview with Professor Chambless on the history of gerrymandering: 

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