News Local/State

U Of I Professor Hopes Research Helps Court Determine Map Standard

Headshot of Wendy Tam Cho.

Research from U of I professor Wendy Tam Cho and colleague Yan Liu has been cited in court briefs in Gill v. Whitford. L. Brian Stauffer/University of Illinois

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in Gill v. Whitford, a Wisconsin case challenging partisan legislative maps.

Wendy Tam Cho is a political science professor on the University of Illinois Urbana campus. Cho says this case is particularly important because it could determine the court’s role in future cases on gerrymandering.

“So, if the legislatures decide to institute a gerrymander, the Supreme Court can rule those unconstitutional," Cho said. "And in this case, Gill v. Whitfford, the court could potentially decide that they’re not going to hear partisan gerrymander cases ever again.”

In a 2004 case, the court was split on whether it was possible to set manageable standards for partisan gerrymandering.

Cho says the problem for the court has been figuring out how to determine the level of partisanship for any one map.

“They’re given a map, and they’re asked ‘is this an unconstitutional gerrymander?’" Cho said. "And the court is really only given that one map, and they’re asked what is essentially a comparative question.”

Cho has used the Blue Waters supercomputer on the U of I Urbana campus to generate billions of possible legislative maps, which she hopes will help the court determine how partisan any one map might be.  Her research has been cited in briefs filed with the court.