A plaintiff may not invoke federal-court jurisdiction unless he can show a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy. That requirement is enforced by insisting that a plaintiff satisfy the familiar three-part test for U.S. Const. art. III standing: that he (1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. Foremost among these requirements is injury in fact—a plaintiff’s pleading and proof that he has suffered the invasion of a legally protected interest that is concrete and particularized, i.e., which affects the plaintiff in a personal and individual way.
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—i.e., 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’ First Amendment right of association and their Fourteenth Amendment right 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.
Did the Democratic voters lack legal standing to challenge the constitutionality of Act 43?
The Court ruled that -for purposes of determining whether Wisconsin voters had U.S. Const. art. III standing in a suit alleging that partisan gerrymandering diluted their votes in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the voters' alleged injury was district specific and not statewide in nature. Allegations of statewide harm to the voters' interests in their collective representation in the legislature and in influencing policymaking did not present individual and personal injury of the kind required for standing; -although some voters had pleaded that "packing" or "cracking" in their legislative districts diluted the influence of their votes, they failed to prove that they lived in packed or cracked districts. Evidence derived from partisan asymmetry studies did not address the effect of a gerrymander on the votes of particular citizens and therefore did not establish standing.