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Democracy NC “Disappointed” in SCOTUS Remand in Partisan Gerrymandering Case

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that challengers to Wisconsin voting maps lacked sufficient standing in the partisan gerrymandering case, Gill v. Whitford

Justice Roberts, writing the majority decision, found that future claims must arise from specific, individual districts rather than from unfairness of the redistricting plan as a whole. Roberts remanded the case back to the district court to see if standing could be established. No justices dissented in the 22-page opinion. Kagan, Ginsberg, Breyer, and Sotomayor concurred.

A second case, Benisek v. Lamone, challenging partisan gerrymandering in Maryland, also received no resolution on the merits, with the Court finding the timing of plaintiffs complaints at issue in a brief five-page opinion.

Democracy North Carolina’s Tomas Lopez responded that he was “disappointed” in the Court’s decision to delay a ruling on what constitutes partisan gerrymandering in the Wisconsin case, which has major implications for North Carolina’s own voting maps.

“While we are disappointed that the Supreme Court avoided establishing a standard against partisan gerrymandering today, its decisions underscore the continued need for reform,” said Tomas Lopez, Executive Director of Democracy North Carolina. “North Carolina’s voting districts are some of the most distorted in the nation, and for too long politicians have used their partisan gamesmanship as a defense. We hope that the Court will ultimately adopt a standard that takes away that defense, and that our state reforms the redistricting process by taking it out of politicians’ hands and into those of their constituents.”

“North Carolina's voting districts are some of the most distorted in the nation, and for too long politicians have used their partisan gamesmanship as a defense.” –Tomas Lopez, Democracy North Carolina

Gill v. Whitford, Case Background (Provided by Brennan Center for Justice) 

In November 2016, the panel declared that the state house plan adopted by Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature in 2011 was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander that violated both the Equal Protection Clause and the plaintiffs’ First Amendment freedom of association. The ruling was the first time in over three decades that a federal court invalidated a redistricting plan for partisan bias.

After evaluating the constitutionality of the map with a three-part test, the panel concluded that the map displayed both bad intent and bad effect, citing evidence that the map drawers used special partisan measurements to ensure that the map maximized Republican advantages in assembly seats. Despite Democrats winning a majority of the statewide Assembly vote in 2012 and 2014, Republicans won sixty of the ninety-nine Assembly seats. Wisconsin Republicans dispute the assertion that they intentionally engineered a biased map, arguing that partisan skews in the map reflect a natural geographic advantage they have in redistricting as a result of Democrats clustering in cities while Republicans are spread out more evenly throughout the state. The court, however, said the state’s natural political geography “does not explain adequately the sizeable disparate effect” seen in the previous two election cycles.

The panel, however, denied one of the plaintiffs’ principal requests: to have judges, not lawmakers and the governor, in charge of redrawing the legislative boundaries, stating in its opinion, “it is neither necessary nor appropriate for us to embroil the Court in the Wisconsin Legislature’s deliberations.” The court advised the panel to use the November ruling as a guide in developing a new redistricting plan.

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

On May 22, the state asked the Court to stay the panel’s order calling for the creation of a new plan.

The Court granted the state’s request to stay the decision of the lower court while it considers the case.

The Court heard oral argument in the case on October 3, 2017.

Democracy North Carolina is a statewide nonpartisan organization that uses research, organizing, and advocacy to increase civic participation, reduce the influence of big money in politics, and remove systemic barriers to voting and serving in elected office.