Gill v. Whitford

Facts of the Case

Members of the Wisconsin Legislature are elected from single-member legislative districts. Under the Wisconsin Constitution, the legislature must redraw the boundaries of those districts following each census. After the 2010 census, the legislature passed a new districting plan known as Act 43. Twelve Democratic voters, the plaintiffs in this case, alleged that Act 43  harms the Democratic Party’s ability to convert Democratic votes into Democratic seats in the legislature. They asserted that Act 43 does this by “cracking” certain Democratic voters among different districts in which those voters fail to achieve electoral majorities and “packing” other Democratic voters in a few districts in which Democratic candidates win by large margins. The plaintiffs argued that the degree to which packing and cracking has favored one political party over another can be measured by an “efficiency gap” that compares each party’s respective “wasted” votes—, votes cast for a losing candidate or for a winning candidate in excess of what that candidate needs to win—across all legislative districts. The plaintiffs claimed that the statewide enforcement of Act 43 generated an excess of wasted Democratic votes, thereby violating the plaintiffs’right of association and theirright to equal protection. The defendants, several members of the state election commission, moved to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims. They argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the constitutionality of Act 43 as a whole because, as individual voters, their legally protected interests extend only to the makeup of the legislative district in which they vote. The three-judge District Court denied the defendants’ motion and, following a trial, concluded that Act 43 was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. Regarding standing, the court held that the plaintiffs had suffered a particularized injury to their equal protection rights.


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“The plaintiffs failed to demonstrate Article III standing, so there is no need to resolve any of the questions presented. In a unanimous decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court sidestepped (for now) all of the key issues regarding partisan gerrymandering, resolving the case instead on the technical issue of judicial standing. For a plaintiff to bring a case in federal court, she must have Article III standing, which requires showing three elements, one of which is “injury in fact.” To show injury in fact, a plaintiff must show that she has suffered “invasion of a legally protected interest” that is “concrete and particularized.” In this case, the Court found that the plaintiffs alleged but did not prove individual harms, providing evidence instead only of statewide harms of alleged partisan gerrymandering. The Court thus vacated the judgment of the district court and remanded for further proceedings.Justice Clarence Thomas filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Justice Neil Gorsuch joined. Justices Thomas and Gorsuch did not join the majority with respect to the decision to remand the case and allow the plaintiffs a second chance to prove standing and thus wrote separately to express this disagreement with the disposition.Justice Elena Kagan filed a concurring opinion in which Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor joined. Justice Kagan agreed with the findings and conclusions of the Court but wrote separately, in essence, to describe how the plaintiffs might proceed upon remand. Justice Kagan suggests that the plaintiffs might present more than simply a vote dilution theory, but also an infringement of their First Amendment right of association. Such a claim, according to Justice Kagan, would not require the plaintiffs to show injury-in-fact in the form of injury to her particular voting district because that claim would be statewide in nature. She predicts that partisan gerrymandering “injures enough individuals and organizations in enough concrete ways . . . that standing requirements, properly applied, will not often or long prevent courts from reaching the merits of cases like this one.””

Case Information

Citation: 585 US (2018) Juris Postponed Jun 19, 2017
Argued: Oct 3, 2017
Decided: Jun 18, 2018
Case Brief: 2018