On Monday, the Supreme Court announced that it would not decide whether the state legislative maps drawn in 2011 by Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature are the product of partisan gerrymandering – the practice of drawing district lines to favor one party, at the other party’s expense – and therefore unconstitutional. Instead, the justices sent the Wisconsin case back to the lower court, ruling that the challengers had not shown that they have a legal right to sue. Today the challengers in a partisan-gerrymandering case from North Carolina urged the court to move ahead despite the decision in the Wisconsin case, telling the justices that – unlike the Wisconsin challengers – they do have a legal right to sue.
In the Wisconsin case, Gill v. Whitford, the justices unanimously rejected the challengers’ argument that they could challenge the state’s entire map. The challengers had contended that they were harmed by the dilution of their votes, either because Republicans had “cracked” Democratic voters (dividing them up so that they don’t form a majority anywhere) or “packed” them (concentrating them in a few districts). But that kind of injury, the court explained, stems from how a particular district is drawn, which means that the district can only be challenged by someone who actually lives there.
When the justices meet for their private conference tomorrow, one of the cases that they will consider is Rucho v. Common Cause, in which Republican legislators in North Carolina have asked them to review a decision by a three-judge federal district court invalidating the state’s federal congressional map as a partisan gerrymander. In briefs filed yesterday and today, the challengers in the North Carolina case urged the justices not to send the case back to the lower court. The challengers (including the groups Common Cause and the League of Women Voters) told the justices that they can show a legal right to sue because there are individual plaintiffs who live in each of the state’s 13 congressional districts. Moreover, they added, their claims are not limited to vote dilution.
The state’s Republican legislators pushed back, telling the justices that the case “merits the same fate as” the Wisconsin case – a return trip to the lower court. The justices could announce their disposition of the case as soon as next Monday at 9:30 am.
This post was also published on SCOTUSblog.