By Guy-Uriel E. Charles and Luis E. Fuentes-Rohwer
On April 7, thousands of Wisconsin citizens braved a global pandemic to show up at the polls to vote. Some commentators blamed Republicans in the legislature for forcing voters to choose between their health and the health of their democracy. Others blamed the Supreme Court for reinforcing this choice, because in Republican National Committee v. Democratic National Committee, the court’s conservative majority reversed an order by federal Judge William Conley that would have made it easier for Wisconsin voters to vote from home.
We agree that a Supreme Court decision led to this situation, but not the decision most are discussing. Our research suggests that the real culprit is the Supreme Court’s 2018 political gerrymandering decision in Rucho v. Common Cause. In that case, the court could have — yet failed to — curb the type of extreme partisanship that led to what happened in Wisconsin. Rucho specifically addressed partisan gerrymandering cases out of North Carolina and Maryland. But in a case decided the year before, the court overturned on technical grounds a federal-district court’s decision that struck down Wisconsin’s state legislative redistricting plan, which had been enacted by the Republican-controlled state legislature.