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Court Case Tracker

Current Partisan Gerrymandering Cases

Major partisan gerrymandering cases are ongoing in Maryland, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. Find summaries of those cases and related court documents here.

Published: April 26, 2017

Gill v. Whit­ford 

United States Supreme Court (No. 16–1161)

The plaintiffs, 12 Wiscon­sin resid­ents who histor­ic­ally have voted Demo­cratic, filed a lawsuit on July 8, 2015 in the U.S. District Court for the West­ern District of Wiscon­sin chal­len­ging the legis­lat­ive district plan drawn by the Repub­lican-controlled legis­lature follow­ing the 2010 Census. They argue the map is uncon­sti­tu­tional because it discrim­in­ates against Demo­cratic candid­ates and voters on the basis of their polit­ical beliefs, viol­at­ing the Equal Protec­tion Clause of the Four­teenth Amend­ment, and because it burdens their First Amend­ment rights of asso­ci­ation and speech.

Earlier this year, on April 7, the three-judge federal panel ruled unan­im­ously to allow the case to proceed to trial, mark­ing the first time in three decades that partisan gerry­man­der­ing claims survived a motion to dismiss. The trial was held in late-May and posed two major ques­tions for the court. The first was whether the Wiscon­sin state house plan had been drawn with discrim­in­at­ory partisan intent. Second, assum­ing there was intent, the trial turned to whether the maps had a consti­tu­tion­ally discrim­in­at­ory effect — an issue that courts have thus far been unable to develop a simple test to resolve.

The trial provided a key initial test for the effi­ciency gap, a proposed stand­ard for determ­in­ing discrim­in­at­ory effect that counts the number of votes each party wastes in an elec­tion to determ­ine whether either party enjoyed a system­atic advant­age in turn­ing votes into seats.

On Novem­ber 21, 2016, the panel issued a 2–1 opin­ion hold­ing that Wiscon­sin’s legis­lat­ive plan was an uncon­sti­tu­tional partisan gerry­mander because it resul­ted in excess­ive partisan asym­metry that could not be explained by neut­ral factors such as polit­ical topgraphy. Shortly there­after, the panel ordered the Wiscon­sin Legis­lature put a remedial plan in place by Novem­ber 1, 2017. 

Wiscon­sin filed an appeal on Febru­ary 24, 2017, asking the Supreme Court to review the decision strik­ing down the map. 

Key plead­ings for Gill v. Whit­ford can be found here.

 

Benisek v. Lamone (formerly known as Shapiro v. McManus)

United States District Court for the District of Mary­land (No. 13-cv-3233)

A group of Mary­land voters filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Mary­land on Novem­ber 5, 2013 chal­len­ging the congres­sional redis­trict­ing plan enacted by the Demo­cratic-controlled Mary­land General Assembly follow­ing the 2010 Census.

In their amended complaint, plaintiffs claimed that Maryland’s 6th Congres­sional District was a partisan gerry­mander that viol­ated their repres­ent­a­tional rights guar­an­teed by Article I of the U.S. Consti­tu­tion and their First Amend­ment right of polit­ical asso­ci­ation. Until the 2011 redis­trict­ing, the Sixth District routinely sent a Repub­lican to Congress; after­ward, the district flipped, going to the Demo­cratic side. Under the plaintiffs’ theory of the case, the Demo­cratic-controlled legis­lature engin­eered this flip in an attempt to punish Repub­lican voters for cast­ing their ballots in favor of their preferred Repub­lican candid­ates.

On August 24, 2016, the panel denied the state defend­ants’ motion to dismiss in a 2–1 decision, hold­ing that the plaintiffs had adequately alleged a claim that they had been disfavored and punished for exer­cising their First Amend­ment rights. The parties are now proceed­ing with discov­ery, with a trial in the case expec­ted in late summer or early fall 2017.

Key plead­ings for Benisek v. Lamone can be found here.

 

Harris v. Cooper 

United States Supreme Court (No. 16–166)

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Common Cause v. Rucho

United States District Court for the Middle District of North Caro­lina (No. 1:16-CV-1026)

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League of Women Voters v. Rucho

United States District Court for the Middle District of North Caro­lina (No. 1:16-CV-1164)

Race and polit­ics collided in North Caro­lina this cycle, present­ing courts with both racial and partisan gerry­man­der­ing claims.

On Octo­ber 24, 2013, plaintiffs in Harris v. McCrory filed suit alleging that North Caro­lina packed African-Amer­ican voters into the 1st and 12th Congres­sional Districts when it redrew its congres­sional district lines in 2011. The district lines, they argued, diluted African-Amer­ican voting power and viol­ated the Equal Protec­tion Clause of the Four­teenth Amend­ment. In early Febru­ary, the three-judge panel agreed and struck down the state’s congres­sional map as an uncon­sti­tu­tional racial gerry­mander.

After the ruling, the state defend­ants appealed. Mean­while, the North Caro­lina legis­lature held an emer­gency special session where it redrew the map. However, in redraw­ing maps, legis­lat­ive lead­ers adop­ted rules that required proposed maps to main­tain the state’s partisan balance of 10 Repub­lican and 3 Demo­cratic seats. A key legis­lat­ive leader stated on the floor that, “I acknow­ledge freely that this would be a polit­ical gerry­mander, which is not against the law.” The chal­lengers filed objec­tions to the remedial plan claim­ing the new map was doubly defect­ive. Not only did the legis­lature fail to fix the defi­cien­cies with the original map, they argued, but it also added an uncon­sti­tu­tional partisan gerry­mander to the still-exist­ing racial gerry­mander.

The court denied the plaintiffs’ objec­tions on June 2, 2016. In the short eight-page opin­ion, the court said its “hands appear to be tied” given the lack of a judi­cially manage­ment stand­ard to eval­u­ate partisan gerry­man­der­ing claims. However, the court emphas­ized that its ruling was not an endorse­ment of, nor does it prevent further chal­lenges to, the state’s remedial plan.

The plaintiffs have appealed the district court’s ruling on the 2016 remedial map to the Supreme Court. The Court is expec­ted to decide some time before June whether to accept the case for argu­ment. It is possible, however, that the Court will delay any decision or action on the partisan gerry­man­der­ing claims in Harris until it has decided the state defend­ants’ racial gerry­man­der­ing appeal.

In the mean­time, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters have filed suits in district court also chal­len­ging the consti­tu­tion­al­ity of the 2016 remedial plan. Both cases have been consol­id­ated and the trial is sched­uled to begin on June 26, 2017. 

Key plead­ings for Harris v. Cooper can be found here.

Key plead­ings for Common Cause v. Rucho can be found here.

Key plead­ings for the League of Women Voters v. Rucho can be found here.