The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday in two partisan gerrymandering cases.
The first, Rucho v. Common Cause, asks the court whether North Carolina’s 2016 congressional map is unconstitutional, as the US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina found. The district court first found that the issue over the map was justiciable, and secondly found the 2016 map violated the Equal Protection Clause, First Amendment, and the Elections Clauses of Article I, and enjoined the State from using the map after the November 2018 elections.
At argument, the petitioner, Chairman of the North Carolina Senate Redistricting Committee, argued that “one person one vote” is not defeated when that one person lives in a district overwhelmingly populated by people of of the same or opposite political ideology. Using this reasoning, the respondents could not have suffered a harm to bring the lawsuit in the first place. Further, even if the court decides the respondents were harmed by the redistricting, the petitioner argued that the Court didn’t have the authority to decide the constitutionality of the map because the Constitution vests that authority in the legislator.
The respondent pushed back, calling the petitioner’s argument “most extreme,” and saying: “They take the position that no matter how predominant the intent, no matter how extreme the effects, there are absolutely no constitutional limitations on partisan gerrymander.” The respondent continued by highlighting the flaws in the argument that the map was drawn using neutral redistricting principles: “you cannot possibly explain the 10/3 advantage based on political geography, democratic clustering, the application of independent redistricting principles, or pure chance. This is not the result of chance. You can only achieve it by making partisan advantage the predominant motivation.”
The second, Lamone v. Benisek, asks the Ccourt whether the Maryland District Court’s decision to strike down Maryland’s 2011 congressional map rested on a “limited and precise” test for determining constitutionality of congressional maps.
The petitioner, the Maryland Elections Board, argued that the “First Amendment retaliation test” used by the lower court, “fails to provide a manageable standard because it does not give courts and legislators the means to distinguish between excessive political considerations and those that have been deemed constitutionally acceptable.” In essence, the district court set forth a standard that would prevent redistricting for proportional representation and created “unprecedented restrictions on what information legislators may consider in redrawing district lines.”
The respondent/plaintiffs, countered, saying the 2011 map violated several standards:
When state officials use redistricting to burden a particular group of voters because of their political views, with the express goal of making it harder for … that group of voters to win elections, and when that goal is achieved so that group of voters is ordinarily doomed to usual electoral defeat under the map, and when the state cannot come forward with a legitimate governmental interest to justify the burdens imposed, the map has to be neutrally redrawn.
In response to the notion that the plaintiffs did not suffer a harm from the 2011 map, the respondent plainly stated that, “dooming the targeted voters to electoral failure is enough to state a claim.”