Citizens, you need referendum option

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Court's message: Voters are on their own to change partisan stranglehold.

IT'S JUST A FACT: Republicans have played smarter than Democrats, and the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in a challenge to partisan gerrymandering ought to prove it for everyone.

For years it has been a top Republican priority to gain majorities over key courts. Here, it has been the Wisconsin Supreme Court; nationally, it has been the U.S. Supreme Court. Both have been accomplished skillfully, with a 5-2 conservative majority in Wisconsin and a 5-4 conservative majority - with the decisive last two appointments made by President Trump - in Washington.

The result in Wisconsin has been a high court in lockstep with measures adopted during the era when Scott Walker was governor and Republicans controlled both houses of the legislature.

The result in Washington was starkly on display in the gerrymandering case.

THE CASE INVOLVED two states. In Maryland, Democrats had drawn districts to disadvantage Republican voters and assure control. In North Carolina, Republicans had done the drawing and made sure Democrat voters couldn't elect enough representatives to take control.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts plainly acknowledged, "(the redistricting plans) are highly partisan by any measure."

Then, essentially, the court majority said that's fine with them.

The federal courts, the majority ruling states, have no role to play in policing politicized districts drawn for partisan purposes.

In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote, "For the first time ever, this court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities."

THIS IS NOW the law of the land, with the 5-4 majority instructing the federal courts to stay out of partisan redistricting issues.

Read another way, the law of the land now sends a clear message to whichever political party is in control of a state following the 2020 census to double-down and make gerrymandered districts even more extreme. After all, the courts have now fully taken a pass. To partisans everywhere, that undoubtedly translates to "do whatever you want."

The court's reasoning - that it's up to voters to change things if they're upset - is absurd. The whole purpose of partisan gerrymandering is to make sure voters can't do that, by establishing legislative and congressional districts that lock in a preordained outcome.

After the 2010 census Wisconsin's legislature, fully controlled by Republicans with a Republican in the governor's office, drew maps that lopsidedly favored their party. Today, Wisconsin voters could be mad as hell - and polling consistently suggests they are - over excessively gerrymandered districts, but without the option of judicial relief those voters are thoroughly impotent to change the lines that lock in results.

Lest anyone think only Republicans know how to cheat through gerrymandering, controlling Democrats followed the same playbook in Illinois.

WE'VE SAID IT before, we'll say it again: Wisconsin desperately needs what's called initiative-and-referendum. That's a process that allows ordinary citizens to gather enough signatures to force a binding vote onto the statewide ballot. It's the only way to go over the heads of elected representatives if they are not playing fair. Polls show strong majorities would support things like nonpartisan redistricting - and term limits for politicians.

That's where the fight must move now that the courts have retired from the field. Empower citizens.

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