In the next month or so, the Supreme Court is expected to issue its decisions in a pair of cases challenging federal congressional districts in North Carolina and Maryland as the product of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering. When the justices heard oral argument in the two cases in late March, a key issue was whether courts should review partisan gerrymandering claims at all or should instead stay out of them, leaving the issue to politicians and the political process. Two weeks ago, Republican officials from Ohio and Michigan today asked the Supreme Court to put lower court rulings that found partisan gerrymandering in those states on hold while they appeal. Today the Supreme Court granted those requests, in a series of brief unsigned orders that were fairly unsurprising in light of the pending North Carolina and Maryland cases.
Republicans in Ohio had come to the Supreme Court on May 10, one week after a three-judge federal court struck down the state’s federal congressional map and ordered the state’s general assembly to come up with a new plan by June 14. One group of officials, led by Rep. Steve Chabot, characterized the lower court’s ruling as having “recognized a constitutional claim to vindicate partisan buyer’s remorse” after “half the Democratic members of the Ohio legislature” voted to support the plan.
The officials stressed that the Supreme Court is likely to take up their appeals, because cases involving redistricting are among the narrow set of federal cases with an automatic right of appeal from the three-judge district court to the Supreme Court. Moreover, they added, if the justices eventually rule in the North Carolina and Maryland cases that courts have no role in partisan gerrymandering cases, there would be no need to draw new maps. But even if the justices were to rule for the challengers in the North Carolina and Maryland cases, they concluded, the lower court would have to reconsider the Ohio case “in light of whatever standard” the Supreme Court eventually establishes in those cases.
Republicans in Michigan came to the Supreme Court the same day, asking the justices to block an April 25 order that barred the state from using portions of its legislative and congressional maps on the ground that they too were the product of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering by Republicans. The officials emphasized that the lower court’s order – which would require the state to draw new maps by August 1 – was “on the brink of throwing Michigan’s political system into unnecessary chaos” and would require the state to “devote massive resources,” which would ultimately come out of the public purse, to comply.
All four requests went first to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles emergency appeals from the geographic region that includes Ohio and Michigan. Sotomayor referred them to the full court, which today granted them. Each of the court’s orders indicated that the lower court’s orders would be put on hold pending either “the timely filing and disposition of an appeal” to the Supreme Court or “further order of this Court.”
This post was also published on SCOTUSblog.