Skip Navigation

Supreme Court to Wade into Partisan Gerrymandering

On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear yet another redistricting case, which could affect how future fights over partisan gerrymandering play out in the courts.

June 8, 2015

On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a redistricting case out of Maryland about who gets to decide whether a redistricting case should be dismissed without a trial — the fourth redistricting case it has agreed to hear since the nation’s congressional and legislative maps were redrawn after the 2010 Census.

The latest case, Shapiro v. Mack, asks the Supreme Court to reverse U.S. District Judge James Bredar’s decision to dismiss partisan gerrymandering claims involving Maryland’s congressional map without first convening a three-judge panel. Ordinarily, such panels are required under federal law whenever a lawsuit challenges a statewide redistricting plan, as the Maryland plaintiffs’ partisan gerrymandering claims did. However, judges can decline to convene a three-judge panel if claims in a suit are frivolous or “obviously without merit.” In the Maryland case, Judge Bredar said that partisan gerrymandering claims fell within the exception because the plaintiffs’ theory had not been recognized by courts.

The plaintiffs, who contend that Maryland’s congressional map is gerrymandered in favor of incumbent Democrats, appealed to the Fourth Circuit, which affirmed Judge Bredar’s decision in a one-page order.

Although not as high profile as some of the other redistricting cases the Supreme Court has agreed to hear this mapdrawing cycle, the case will decide the question of exactly when plaintiffs in redistricting cases get the protection of a three-judge panel — a factor that can be important in complicated redistricting disputes, particularly when the rights of minority communities are involved. It also could affect how future fights over partisan gerrymandering play out in the courts.

The case will be argued in the Supreme Court term that begins in October, along with a closely watched Texas case about application of the Constitution’s one-person, one-vote principle.

(Photo: Thinkstock)