[This is a developing story — look for updates as the day progresses.] The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the North Carolina gerrymandering case of Rucho v. Common Cause today. Instead, the Court invoked the reasoning it used last week in remanding a pair of gerrymandering cases from Wisconsin and Maryland which directed lower courts to determine whether plaintiffs met the technical requirement of having “standing” to sue.
This means that, at least for the immediately foreseeable future, the Court will not be issuing any definitive rulings on whether partisan gerrymandering of the kind in which the GOP majority in the North Carolina General Assembly admittedly engaged. Anti-gerrymandering advocates were disappointed by the ruling, but remain optimistic that the Court will eventually take action in this area.
This statement is from Common Cause of North Carolina:
RALEIGH – On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court returned to a federal district court for further consideration the landmark case of Common Cause v. Rucho, challenging partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina.
In January, the federal district court in Greensboro ruled that the NC legislature’s extreme partisan gerrymandering of the state’s congressional districts violated the constitutional rights of North Carolina voters and ordered the congressional districts be redrawn. That ruling was put on hold pending an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court returned Gill v. Whitford, a partisan gerrymandering case from Wisconsin, back to a lower court to determine standing of plaintiffs. In light of that action in Gill, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday returned Common Cause v. Rucho back to the federal middle district court in North Carolina to confirm standing of plaintiffs.
The following is a statement from Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause NC:
“Our legal fight against partisan gerrymandering continues, and we are confident the court will ultimately affirm our landmark victory in this case. Our plaintiffs clearly have standing and have suffered real harm by the legislature’s extreme partisan gerrymandering. We must end gerrymandering to ensure all voters have a voice in our democracy.”
The Common Cause v. Rucho organizational plaintiffs include Common Cause and the North Carolina Democratic Party. Both organizations have members in every congressional district in North Carolina. Common Cause v. Rucho also has individual plaintiffs, including at least one voter from each of North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts.
The District Court accepted this evidence of standing and concluded that the plaintiffs had proved their claims of district-specific packing and cracking. See, e.g., App-8-9 (describing district-specific packing and cracking of predecessor 2011 Plan, which the 2016 Plan sought to preserve to the greatest extent possible); App-41 (“[T]he 2016 Plan diluted the votes of those Plaintiffs who supported non-Republican candidates and reside in the ten [specific] districts that the General Assembly drew to elect Republican candidates.” (emphasis added)); App-159-60 (describing “cracking” of specific “naturally occurring Democratic clusters” to “make it easier for Republican candidates to prevail”). Appellants did not challenge these factual findings in this Court.
“Justice delayed is justice denied, however, we are confident that we have standing to be able to make our way back to the Supreme Court so that the Justices may draw a clear line against partisan political gerrymanders that leave too many Americans without fair representation,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “In a democracy, voters should be choosing politicians, and we hope the Supreme Court will make clear with this case that politicians should not be choosing their voters for partisan political gain. The Court can still set a clear standard that will restore the vote to millions of Americans who have essentially been disenfranchised by gerrymanders perpetrated by Democratic and Republican legislatures.”
“The Court’s delay in reviewing Rucho v. Common Cause, challenging partisan gerrymandering only adds fuel to Common Cause and its million members to mobilize to enact redistricting reforms at the state and local level,” said Kathay Feng, Common Cause national redistricting director. “In 2015, the Court affirmed the people’s right to create redistricting commissions and other reforms in Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. We are now seizing that opportunity with voter-passed reforms Ohio and soon in Michigan, Colorado, Utah, and Missouri when voters will cast ballots on their own redistricting reform measures.”
Common Cause challenged the drawing of each of North Carolina’s thirteen individual congressional districts on the ground that each district is the result of an unconstitutional political gerrymander that violates the First Amendment (Count I), the Equal Protection Cl (Count III) of the Constitution, and exceeds the authority granted by Article 1, § 4 (Count IV) of the Constitution.