This summer, the Utah Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case that asks it to decide whether partisan gerrymandering claims are actionable under the state constitution. The case arises from a lawsuit brought by Utah voters and advocacy groups challenging the congressional map adopted by the Republican-controlled legislature after the 2020 census that redrew the state’s congressional map and split the state’s most populous county into four congressional districts, eliminating the only district that was competitive for both parties. The district court found the plaintiffs’ claim to be justiciable under the state constitution and scheduled a trial in the case. However, the legislative defendants sought expedited interlocutory review before the Utah Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.
In the 2018 midterm elections, Utah was one of several states where voters passed citizen-led ballot initiatives to limit partisan gerrymandering. A majority of voters there approved Proposition 4, a law that created an advisory redistricting commission, whose maps would be sent to the legislature, who had to vote on the proposal and explain their reasoning if they decided to pass a different map. In 2020, state legislative leaders reasserted their control over redistricting by passing a bill that repealed the strongest anti-gerrymandering provisions of Proposition 4 and clarified that they were not required to vote on any of the commission’s maps.
After these changes, Republican legislators chose to ignore the commission’s proposals and instead enacted a congressional map that controversially split Salt Lake County between all four of the state’s congressional districts for the first time. In doing so, legislators diluted the votes of Utahns living in and around Salt Lake City by placing them in vast, sprawling congressional districts where most of the population live in whiter, more rural areas, a practice known as “cracking.”
The League of Women Voters, Mormon Women for Ethical Government, and several Utah voters challenged the map in state court. They claim that the enacted congressional map constitutes a partisan gerrymander, violating several provisions of the Utah Constitution, including its Free Elections, Equal Protection, and Free Speech and Association Clauses. In response, the legislative defendants have argued that partisan gerrymandering was not justiciable under the Utah Constitution, citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended federal courts’ role in adjudicating partisan gerrymandering cases.
The Brennan Center, along with co-counsel Joshua Cutler of Mayer Brown, filed an amicus brief arguing that partisan gerrymandering claims are justiciable under the Utah Constitution. The amicus brief discusses the Utah Constitution’s strong textual commitment to protection of democracy and argues that these principles not only empower but require state courts to act on partisan gerrymandering claims irrespective of the federal courts’ inaction. Furthermore, the brief points to the many examples of other state courts around the country finding workable standards to assess such cases under similar provisions in their states’ constitutions.
The Utah Supreme Court will hear arguments on July 11, 2023.
Third Judicial District Court, Salt Lake County
Complaint (March 16, 2022)
Defendants’ Motion to Stay Pending Moore v. Harper (July 21, 2022)
Plaintiffs’ Memorandum Opposing Motion to Stay (August 4, 2022)
Judge’s Order Denying Motion to Stay (August 22, 2022)
Utah Supreme Court
Legislative Defendants’ Appeal to the Utah Supreme Court (November 15, 2022)
Plaintiffs’ Opposition to Interlocutory Appeal (December 6, 2022)
Legislative Defendants’ Opening Brief ( March 31, 2023)
Plaintiffs’ Brief Responding to Legislative Defendants (May 15, 2023)
Defendants’ Reply Brief (June 16, 2023)
Plaintiffs’ Supplemental Brief (July 31, 2023)
Defendants’ Supplemental Brief (July 31, 2023)
Honest Elections Project’s Amicus Brief Supporting Defendants (April 7, 2023)
Utah Congressmen’s Amicus Brief in Support of Defendants (April 7, 2023)
Brennan Center’s Amicus Brief Supporting Plaintiffs (May 19, 2023)
ACLU’s Amicus Brief Supporting Plaintiffs (May 19, 2023)
Salt Lake County Mayor’s Amicus Brief Supporting Plaintiffs (May 19, 2023)