From the League of Women Voters:
Today the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will hear arguments in a challenge to North Carolina’s 2016 congressional redistricting plan, which is one of the most egregious partisan gerrymanders in American history. The case has the potential to reshape future redistricting nationwide by limiting politicians’ ability to suppress the voices of voters in how they draw electoral districts. Oral arguments will be held later this term.
“Partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina has become so pervasive that the outcome of many elections is decided before a single vote is cast,” said Janet Hoy, co-president of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina. “We have full hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will accept the two lower court rulings and reject the Defendant’s request to further litigate this matter so that voters can have the fair elections they deserve and assurance that their vote matters.”
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ), Campaign Legal Center (CLC), and University of Chicago Professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos represent the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and 12 individual North Carolina plaintiffs in the case, League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho. The Supreme Court will simultaneously hear companion cases, Common Cause v. Rucho and Maryland redistricting case Benisek v. Lamone.
“For far too long, politicians in North Carolina have gamed the system to keep control,” said Chris Carson, President of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “It is time we put the power back in the hands of the voters to determine the direction of their state. District lines must be drawn in a way that reflects our communities. Only through independent, citizen-led redistricting can we truly create fair maps.”
If the Supreme Court confirms the lower court’s ruling that the state’s maps are unconstitutional, this victory could curtail the undemocratic practice of partisan gerrymandering nationwide. Last term, the Supreme Court heard the case of Gill v. Whitford, a challenge to Wisconsin’s gerrymandered Assembly maps. The Supreme Court’s decision in that case triggered the return of a host of other cases across the country to district courts, with instructions for additional review. With that guidance, the district court ruled that North Carolina’s map is clearly a partisan gerrymander, and thus unconstitutional.
“Now that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear this case, we are hopeful that the Court will set a standard that can rein in partisan gerrymandering once and for all,” said Celina Stewart, Director of Advocacy and Litigation at the League of Women Voters of the U.S. “There is no better time to establish a process, with the 2020 Census approaching—which will guide the next round of redistricting and ensure district lines are drawn in a manner that reflects voting populations, not the politicians in power.”
With the case now set to be decided this term, voters move closer to fair and legal maps drawn for the 2020 elections.
From Voice of America
The Supreme Court is plunging back into the issue of whether electoral districts can be too partisan.
Disputes have arisen in cases involving North Carolina’s heavily Republican congressional map and a Democratic congressional district in Maryland, and the justices said Friday they will hear arguments in March.
The high court could come out with the first limits on partisan politics in the drawing of electoral districts, but also could ultimately decide that federal judges have no role in trying to police political mapmaking.
The court took up the issue of partisan gerrymandering last term in cases from Wisconsin and the same Maryland district, but the justices failed to reach a decision on limiting political line-drawing for political gain.
No history for Kavanaugh
Justice Anthony Kennedy had said he was open to limits. He has since retired, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh has taken Kennedy’s seat. He has no judicial record on the issue.
The court again has taken one case in which Democrats are accused of unfairly limiting Republicans’ political power and one in which Republicans are the alleged culprits. The court also has the entire North Carolina congressional map before it, but only the one Maryland district.
In both cases, however, lower courts have found that the party in charge of redistricting — Republicans in North Carolina, Democrats in Maryland — egregiously violated the rights of voters in the other party.
The North Carolina map was redrawn in 2016 because federal courts determined two districts originally drawn in 2011 were illegal because of excessive racial bias.
In November, Republicans won at least nine of the 13 seats in North Carolina’s congressional delegation and appeared to have won a 10th seat, in keeping with how many they held before the 2016 remapping. But state election officials have so far declined to certify the results in the 9th District in south-central North Carolina because of allegations of absentee ballot fraud.
A key Republican in the North Carolina redistricting process, state Rep. David Lewis, has said that he drew 10 Republican districts because he did not “believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”
Three-judge panel reviews decision
In January, a three-judge court found that the map violated the Constitution and ordered the state to come up with a new plan quickly, in time for the 2018 elections. But the Supreme Court delayed enforcement of the court order, mainly because the justices already were considering the partisan districting cases from Maryland and Wisconsin.
When those cases did not settle the issue, the high court ordered the three judges to take a new look at their earlier decision. They reaffirmed the ruling in August, but also concluded there wasn’t enough time to put new districts in place for 2018.
Common Cause, the watchdog group that supports limits on partisan line-drawing, is leading the challenge to the North Carolina districts. “Whether it is Democrats or Republicans manipulating the election maps, gerrymanders cheat voters out of true representation,” Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn said in a statement. “The Supreme Court has the opportunity to set a clear standard that will restore a meaningful vote to millions of Americans disenfranchised by gerrymanders in Maryland, North Carolina and across the country.”
Bill D’Elia, a spokesman for North Carolina Republican state Senate leader Phil Berger, said Friday that Democrats have been looking for much of this decade to find judges who will redraw maps that will boost their candidates. “We hope the Supreme Court finally puts this nonsense to rest and that Democrats go back to the old-fashioned way of winning elections: convincing people to vote for them,” D’Elia said in an email.
In Maryland, Democratic Rep. David Trone was sworn into office Thursday to represent a district that runs from the Washington suburbs to the rural northwest corner of the state. Democrats who controlled the redistricting process overhauled the district in 2011, turning what had been a reliably Republican stronghold into a Democratic district.
<2>Republicans files suit
Several Republican voters sued over the new district’s boundaries, claiming it unfairly favored Democrats.
A day after the November elections, a three-judge panel agreed with the Republicans who sued and ordered Maryland officials to draw a new congressional redistricting plan that isn’t tainted by partisan gerrymandering.
Judge Paul Niemeyer of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit said in his opinion for the panel that the Maryland congressional map removed roughly 66,000 Republican voters from the district and added around 24,000 Democratic voters, “bringing about the single greatest alteration of voter makeup in any district in the Nation following the 2010 census.”
Trone is not a party to the case, but he filed a legal brief in which he said he “is no fan of partisan gerrymandering, but that does not mean it is a terminal disease, much less one that the judiciary can or should cure.”