The League of Women Voters of North Carolina (LWV) is urging a federal court to move swiftly in reopening the state’s partisan gerrymandering case so that a remedy can be implemented before redistricting in 2020. Legislative defendants disagree and think the case should be dismissed.
Today is the deadline for parties to the partisan gerrymandering cases — League of Women Voters v. Rucho and Common Cause v. Rucho — to weigh in about how the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in a Wisconsin case affects the merits of theirs.
A three-judge panel for the U.S. District Court for the middle district of North Carolina had struck down the state’s 2016 congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The Supreme Court recently vacated that decision and remanded it back to the panel for further consideration in light of the decision in Gill v. Whitford — the Wisconsin case.
The brief filed on behalf of LWC states that the Gill decision has no impact on the federal court’s holdings that invalidated the 2016 congressional map.
“Nor does it undermine the Court’s conclusion that the 2016 plan constitutes unlawful vote dilution under the Equal Protection Clause,” the document states.
The record in the case, though, is not adequate to establish standing to challenge the plan on vote dilution grounds because it does not show where packing and cracking in North Carolina could have been avoided.
That could change if the court allows LWV plaintiffs to admit into evidence additional information about the district maps that were previously generated by one of their experts. The information would offer no new analysis, but would identify individual plaintiffs and/or LWV members who were placed in cracked or packed districts by the 2016 plan but who could have been assigned to uncracked or unpacked districts by a fair map, according to the brief.
The brief asks the court to make a final judgement in the case by September.
Common Cause North Carolina, the plaintiffs in the second case (both cases were tried and decided together), also wrote in a brief that Gill had no impact on their case. They stated, however, that the established record was sufficient in their case to prove vote dilution.
“Our plaintiffs clearly have standing and have suffered real harm by the legislature’s extreme partisan gerrymandering, as the district court unanimously ruled in its landmark decision from January,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of the organization. “This case is key to protecting the constitutional right of citizens in North Carolina and across the nation to have a voice in choosing their representatives.”
Legislative defendants in the case wrote in a separate brief that they believe all the claims are nonjusticiable and that the Supreme Court’s lack of action in the case requires it to be dismissed.
“The decision in Gill clarifies beyond any doubt that plaintiffs cannot challenge the alleged statewide effect of a redistricting plan on the plaintiffs’ partisan preferences and that plaintiffs cannot establish standing through evidence of alleged statewide deficiencies.,” their brief states.
They state that most of the plaintiffs in both partisan gerrymandering cases live in districts that continue to elect their candidates of choice, so they have not established standing in the case.
If the court allows new evidence in the case, attorneys for the legislative defendants state they will need to depose plaintiffs and new experts about the information and then they will offer their own expert testimony.
“Among other evidence to be offered by the legislative defendants, the evidence will show that there is no precedent for either a packing or cracking theory where a district is based upon whole counties and whole voter tabulation districts, such as districts in the 2016 Plan,” the court document states.
The state defendants and the Board of Elections offered no position on how Gill affects the North Carolina cases.
Read the full court documents below.