The US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina [official website] on Monday began trial [The Mountaineer report] in Common Cause v. Rucho, a consolidated partisan gerrymandering case brought by Common Cause, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, [organization pages] among others. The lawsuit challenges North Carolina’s newest map after the Supreme Court upheld a district court ruling that found two congressional districts were racially gerrymandered in Cooper v. Harris [SCOTUSBlog materials].
Last month, the court denied [text, PDF] the Legislative Defendant’s motion to stay pending the outcome of Gill v. Whitford [SCOTUSblog materials; JURIST report], finding that the harms to plaintiffs outweighed any circumstances favoring a stay. The court distinguished Whitford from this case on multiple grounds. First, the court noted that there is no jurisdictional challenge in this case. Further, the court distinguished the legal theories in each case, noting that the Common Cause plaintiffs provide a discrete First Amendment framework for challenging partisan gerrymandering, whereas the Whitford plaintiffs pursue their First Amendment and Equal Protection claims under a unified theory.
The district court noted in its order that the Supreme Court has held that partisan gerrymandering claims are justiciable, stating,
[We must] therefore, refrain from exercising our discretion to stay these proceedings on the bare possibility that the Supreme Court may reverse its precedent and flatly bar claims challenging a practice the Court has characterized as incompatible with democratic principles.
[Internal quotation omitted].
Unless the Court simply declares partisan gerrymandering claims nonjusticiable, this case could provide an alternate method of challenging partisan gerrymandering whatever the Court’s ruling in Whitford.