An unprecedented cadre of political leaders, historians, geographers, law professors, and good government groups - including Common Cause - has joined forces to ask the Supreme Court to outlaw the partisan gerrymandering that has skewed congressional and legislative districts across the country and is effectively denying millions of Americans their right to self-government.
Amicus briefs filed this week in Gill v. Whitford urge the justices to uphold a three-judge lower court’s ruling that Republican lawmakers and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker manipulated district lines to ensure the election of a Republican-majority to the state legislature and a GOP-dominated congressional delegation.
“Gerrymandering turns citizens away from our democratic process by removing any real choice in our elections for far too many Americans,” said Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn. In a conference call with reporters this afternoon, she argued that partisan gerrymanders empower extremists in both major political parties and have been “the death knell of bipartisanship” in many states.
On the same call, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who signed one amicus brief, called partisan gerrymandering “an incumbent protection racket” and praised a group of prominent Republicans who’ve bucked their party’s leadership by urging the court to ban it.
“They have basically decided to be with the people, not with the party,” he said.
As California’s governor, Schwarzenegger joined forces with Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and other groups to secure passage of a ballot issue creating a nonpartisan citizens commission to handle redistricting. The California commission is recognized now as a national model.
Gill v Whitford is scheduled for argument on Oct. 3. The Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group of lawyers specializing in election law, is representing the plaintiffs. Common Cause and the Brennan Center for Justice have organized interested groups and individuals to file friend-of-the-court briefs in support of banning partisan redistricting.
The high court has long banned racial gerrymandering – the drawing of district lines to minimize the voting strength of African-Americans, Latinos and other racial minorities – but so far has refused to ban districts deliberately configured to advance partisan interests.
In North Carolina, Common Cause has filed Common Cause v. Rucho to challenge a Republican-engineered gerrymander in that state. In Maryland, Common Cause is supporting a similar challenge, Benisek v. Lamone, to a Democratic gerrymander. In each case, the party in power at the beginning of each decade used sophisticated computer software to re-shape congressional and state legislative districts to maximize the election of its candidates and minimize the opposition party.
In Gill v. Whitford, Common Cause’s amicus brief argues that partisan gerrymandering violates the First Amendment to the Constitution because it discriminates against people based on their political views. While the justices may struggle to set a standard that will give legislators clear direction about how far they can go in attempting to help or hurt one party in drawing district lines, that should not stop them from blocking the kind of egregious gerrymanders seen in Wisconsin, North Carolina and elsewhere, the brief argues.
Other amicus briefs in the case include:
- A multi-state brief led by Oregon arguing that states would have no difficulty adhering to the partisan gerrymandering standard the trial court approved;
- A bipartisan brief by current and former members of the U.S. House of Representatives pointing to the need for reform;
- A brief from the California Citizens Redistricting Commission and Fair Districts Now, its Florida counterpart, arguing that redistricting does not have to be defined by extreme partisanship;
- A Republican brief from statewide elected officials brief (Schwarzenegger, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman, and former Sens. Bob Dole, Richard Lugar, and John Danforth) urging the Court to uphold the ruling of the three judge panel;
- A brief from the League of Conservation Voters, Wisconsin League of Women Voters, and the Wisconsin superintendent of education discussing how gerrymandering skews policy outcomes;
- A bipartisan brief from current and former state legislators telling the story of how the big-money campaign fight to control redistricting makes it harder to legislate due to the extreme partisanship created by gerrymanders;
- A brief from the League of Cities and the International Municipal Lawyers Association discussing the threat to democracy when entrenched minority factions take control of legislatures and preempt local laws;
- A brief from the Center for Media and Democracy refuting the legal errors in the Wisconsin State Legislature’s brief in the case.
Issues: Voting and Elections