The trial of a Common Cause-led challenge to partisan gerrymandering began this morning in Raleigh, NC, where Republican state legislators have acknowledged designing congressional districts to give the GOP a lopsided majority in the state’s delegation to the House of Representatives.
Common Cause v. Rucho, being heard by a three-judge federal district court, is one of a group of cases that democracy reform activists hope will produce a Supreme Court decision that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. The high court heard arguments in one of the related cases, Gill v. Whitford, earlier this month.
Common Cause and other plaintiffs in Rucho argue that the North Carolina U.S. House districts were drawn to deprive Democratic voters of free speech rights protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution; the districts also violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and two sections of the Constitution relating to the way representatives are popularly elected, the plaintiffs contend.
Though registered Democrats in North Carolina outnumber Republicans, 2.6 million to 2 million, the districts drawn by the GOP-controlled legislature have produced a 10-3 Republican majority in the state’s congressional delegation. And in a statement highlighted for the court by the plaintiffs, state Rep. David Lewis said last year that the map provides a 10-3 partisan advantage only “because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”
While the defendants in Rucho are Republicans, Common Cause has challenged Democratic gerrymanders in Maryland and other states where Democrats control the state legislature. The organization is campaigning in several states tp reduce the power self-interested politicians have in controlling the political boundary adjustments required after each decennial census.
The Supreme Court banned racial gerrymandering – the drawing of districts to deprive African-American and other minority voters the ability to elect representatives of their choosing – decades ago. But the justices have shied away from attacking gerrymanders designed to favor a political party. The districts being challenged in Rucho were drawn by North Carolina lawmakers after earlier districts were tossed out in court as racially gerrymandered.
Issues: Voting and Elections