OU Professor Works On Landmark US Court Case

Friday, October 20th 2017, 11:44 am
By: Grant Hermes

A professor at the University of Oklahoma is throwing his hat back into national politics at the US Supreme Court, in a case that could change the way American democracy operates.

Prof. Keith Gaddie is a former political consultant, whom prior to coming to OU, aided campaigns and parties at both the state and national level, including at times, the process of redistricting.

The case is Gill v. Whitford out of Wisconsin. Justices have been asked to decide whether voting districts there were made with too much bias and whether it undermines freedom of expression, through the process of gerrymandering.

National Congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years, based on census data. Most states redraw their lines at that same time. It’s been a long-standing tradition in the United States that the winning party of the most recent election is allowed to do the drawing.

Gerrymandering happens when districts are drawn strategically, sometimes even creatively, in order to make a district stronger or weaker for one party or the other.

That's where Gaddie comes in; in a neutral brief to the Court. He and a colleague from the University of California-Irvine laid out a never-before developed legal test for Justices and judges to decide when gerrymandering has gone too far.

“It doesn't matter who's being adversely affected. It's that someone, some group is being systematically disadvantaged on an ongoing basis,” Gaddie said.

The test is laid out in three parts. Partisan asymmetry; do parties have an equal chance of winning when they hold the same majority? District responsiveness; does a district have the flexibility to change with voters and Causation; was one side meant to keep power or lose it?

The goal is to illuminate all the dimensions of the problem.

At its heart the case is about whether partisan gerrymandering goes too far in preventing voters’ freedom of expression. It’s a new legal argument to “ride” as Gaddie put it. He says it’s because Americans are more divided politically than in recent decades and those divisions are quickly becoming something people use to build their identities.

Gaddie said cases like this are once in a generation; a chance he couldn't pass up.

“This was the one shot,” he said. “I'm 52 years old, the next one comes around I'm 73, OK?”

But he added it's not about him, nor is the brief in favor of one side. It's about protecting something small so we can keep something big.

“This isn't about democrats or republicans,” Gaddie said. “This is about majority rule and protection for the minority.”

Arguments in the case began Oct. 3. There’s no indication when the justices will hand down an opinion.