U.S. Supreme Court Will Hear North Carolina and Maryland Partisan Gerrymandering Challenges
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court announced today it will hear arguments in a challenge to North Carolina’s 2016 congressional map, which is one of the most egregious partisan gerrymanders in American history. It will also hear the Maryland challenge, in which Democrats discriminated against Republicans for their party affiliation in its 2011 maps. Together, the cases have the potential to reshape future redistricting nationwide by limiting politicians’ ability to discriminate against voters who favor a minority party when those politicians draw electoral districts.
Campaign Legal Center (CLC), the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) 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, Rucho v. League of Women Voters of North Carolina. The Supreme Court will simultaneously hear a companion case, Common Cause v. Rucho, and it will hear the Maryland case, Benisek v. Lamone, this term.
The movement to fight partisan gerrymandering has generated momentum with a perfect 5-for-5 state ballot initiatives passed in the 2018 midterm election cycle to create independent redistricting commissions. But that solution will not work nationwide. Most states have a state ballot initiative process that can be used only with legislative consent. Given the resistance of legislators to reform, in those states, citizens have little or no recourse.
Citizens in all 50 states deserve to be able to choose their representatives – and not the other way around. This is why we need a national solution, and why the fight for fair maps must continue in the courts.
“Voters nationwide are ready for a ruling from the Supreme Court that finally declares that they come first, not self-interested politicians,” said Paul Smith, vice president at CLC. “A supermajority of Americans – across ideological lines – want the Supreme Court to place limits on partisan gerrymandering. By striking down North Carolina and Maryland’s maps, the Supreme Court can send a message to the rest of the country that extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, no matter which party does it. If the Supreme Court fails to set limits on this undemocratic practice, we will see a festival of copycat gerrymandering in 2020 the likes of which the country has never seen before.”
“In North Carolina, Republican legislative leaders bragged that they were drawing a plan that advantaged Republicans to the maximum extent possible and discriminated against Democrats. This kind of outrageous behavior most certainly crosses the line of constitutionality, and if the Supreme Court does not intervene, our democracy will pay the price,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the SCSJ.
If the Supreme Court rules that the state’s maps are unconstitutional, this victory could curtail the undemocratic practice of partisan gerrymandering nationwide. Last term, CLC’s Paul Smith argued Gill v. Whitford, a challenge to Wisconsin’s gerrymandered Assembly maps. The Supreme Court sent both the North Carolina and Wisconsin cases back to district court with clear instructions.
“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 rein in this undemocratic practice so that voters can have the fair elections they deserve and know that their vote matters.”
"The congressional districts across North Carolina are nothing less than a successful attempt to rig the system," said Aaron Sarver, plaintiff from Asheville, North Carolina. "If members of Congress can tell their Republican colleagues in Raleigh exactly which voters they want to 'represent' then we're getting pretty close to telling people it's not worth bothering to show up to vote because the election was decided the day the maps were drawn."
With the case now to be decided this term, North Carolina voters could have fair and legal maps drawn in time to be used in the 2020 elections.
Read more about the case: Rucho v. League of Women Voters of North Carolina.
Read more about the case: Benisek v. Lamone.