The Supreme Court today after a long wait issued rulings in two important gerrymandering cases where activists had been hoping for a major win. The rulings came today in both cases: Gill v. Whitford and Benisek v. Lamone. The Campaign Legal Center litigated Gill and Mayer Brown litigated Benisek. The American Civil Liberties Union was among those who filed briefs in both cases challenging the currently broken system for partisan gerrymandering.
According to Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, “The Supreme Court missed an opportunity today to lay down a firm marker as to when partisan gerrymandering is so extreme that it violates the constitutional rights of voters. But the court permitted lawsuits against unfair maps to continue. Cases around the country — including our challenge to Ohio’s gerrymandered congressional map — will remain ongoing to ensure that voters’ voices are heard.”
The grassroots nonprofit Common Cause, a nationwide network of more than 1 million members, made its own analysis of the decision equally as clear:
The Supreme Court is now set up to review North Carolina’s partisan gerrymandering case, Rucho v. Common Cause and Rucho v. League of Women Voters of North Carolina, consolidated challenges to North Carolina’s congressional map that plaintiffs won in January.
“This is by no means the end of the road. The Supreme Court is still actively looking for the right case to establish a standard for what constitutes an unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering. With Wisconsin and Maryland’s cases still alive, and Common Cause’s North Carolina case awaiting review by the Supreme Court, the fight to establish constitutional limits on partisan gerrymandering is very much alive,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause.
“After years of inaction in Annapolis, Common Cause Maryland is ready to fight for justice in the courts and overturn Maryland’s egregious partisan gerrymander,” said Damon Effingham, acting executive director of Common Cause Maryland. “Today’s decision proves that the Supreme Court is open to striking political gerrymanders. Along with our allies in the Tame the Gerrymander coalition, we will continue to work to create a fair districting process in Maryland so that everyone, regardless of their political affiliation, has a voice in our democracy.”
“The U.S. Supreme Court today did not address the unconstitutionality of one of the most partisan gerrymanders of state legislative districts (2011) in American history, but we remain hopeful that standing can be addressed and we can win justice in the courts” said Jay Heck, the long-time executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin. “We even more urgently renew our call on the Wisconsin Legislature replace this broken system with a transparent, non-partisan process modeled after our neighbor, Iowa, in time for the 2021 redistricting cycle,” Heck added.
From the Supreme Court decision in Gill v. Whitford: “We leave for another day consideration of other possible theories of harm not presented here and whether those theories might present justiciable claims giving rise to statewide remedies.” Page 16, 585 U.S. ____ (2018).
Rucho v. Common Cause began as a challenge to congressional districts the North Carolina General Assembly drew in 2016 after the previous map was struck down as an illegal racial gerrymander. A three-judge federal district court panel ruled in favor of the Common Cause plaintiffs on all counts in the consolidated case. The court found that the legislature engaged in viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment, violated the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause, and overstepped its authority under Article I, sections 2 and 4 of the Constitution.
“Hundreds of thousands of voters in North Carolina were stripped of their political voice in the nation’s capital by the brazen and undemocratic partisan political gerrymander perpetrated by the state legislature. We are hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court will agree with the federal district court’s landmark ruling that the extreme gerrymandering of our state’s congressional districts clearly violates the constitutional rights of North Carolina citizens,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina. “We must end gerrymandering to ensure all voters have a voice in our democracy.”