We cannot let up, even for a second, but as the Supreme Court prepares to decide a series of challenges to partisan gerrymandering this spring, it’s clear that Common Cause and other groups that have been fighting for years on behalf of fairly-drawn congressional and legislative districts finally have the wind at our backs.
The latest evidence of progress comes in a series of “friend of the court” briefs filed last week in Benisek v. Lamone, one of the cases before the high court. The package, organized by Common Cause, includes briefs signed by four current and former governors and 20 current and former members of Congress.
“(W)e know firsthand that those who draw districts need neutral and independent judicial oversight,” former California Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, wrote in their brief.
Schwarzenegger, Hogan and Kasich are Republicans; Davis is a Democrat.
“In a democracy, voters choose their politicians and politicians have no business choosing their voters for their own, or their party’s, gain,” said Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn.
Democratic and Republican legislators alike “have proven eager to abuse the system at the expense of voters,” Hobert Flynn added. That’s why Common Cause has pushed ballot initiatives to create independent, citizens commissions in states controlled by both parties, she said, and has gone to court to challenge gerrymanders engineered by Democrats and Republicans.
Benisek v. Lamone was filed originally by Steve Shapiro, a longtime Common Cause Maryland member. Though registered as a Democrat, Shapiro was so offended by the way Maryland’s Democratic legislature and then-Gov. Martin O’Malley skewed congressional district lines to favor their party after the 2010 census that he decided to act.
The high court is set to hear arguments in Benisek on March 28; the justices heard another redistricting case, Gill v. Whitford, last fall.
Common Cause’s brief in Benisek argues that the Maryland districts were crafted to dilute the influence of Republican voters in the state. “(T)his Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence requires that such partisan gerrymanders be subjected to strict scrutiny under the First Amendment,” it asserts.
In North Carolina, Common Cause is the lead plaintiff in Common Cause v. Rucho, which challenges congressional districts drawn by the Tar Heel state’s Republican legislature to give their party control of 10 of the state’s 13 seats in the House of Representatives. A three-judge federal court agreed early this month that the districts violate the First Amendment rights of hundreds of thousands of North Carolina voters; GOP lawmakers are appealing to the Supreme Court.
Issues: Voting and Elections