2016 First Amendment Gerrymander Standard Writing Competition


Due May 1, 2016

In December of 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in Shapiro v. McManus allowing a First Amendment challenge to Maryland’s congressional districts to move forward. Separately, a three-judge federal district court panel rejected a motion to dismiss in Whitford v. Nichol, a case challenging Wisconsin’s state legislative Assembly districts. These cases challenging partisan gerrymanders have potentially significant consequences for fair democratic representation. Either could open the door to a ruling against political gerrymandering that leads to its demise.

The Supreme Court has long suggested there is a limit for what is acceptable partisan gerrymandering, but like obscenity, so far the line is undefined and left to courts to know it when they see it. The Court has said that it is willing to hear constitutional challenges to partisan gerrymandering, but existing legal theories have been insufficient to empower citizens and advocates with the tools they need to overturn partisan gerrymanders in court. Common Cause’s 2016 “Gerrymander Standard” Writing Competition is your chance to change that.

For the second year, we invite legal and social science practitioners, scholars, and students to submit papers that will identify partisan gerrymanders and distinguish them from districts drawn using neutral redistricting principles while developing legal theories or arguments that could be used by courts to declare partisan gerrymanders unconstitutional. This year, we are asking authors to focus specifically on the First Amendment issue in Shapiro and Whitford to demonstrate why the drawing of Maryland’s congressional districts or Wisconsin’s Assembly districts is a partisan gerrymander that should be condemned under the First Amendment. Winning papers are selected by a distinguished panel of democracy scholars.

Winning Authors Receive:

  • Prize money: 1st place: $5,000, 2nd place: $3,000, 3rd place: $2,000
  • Publication in Election Law Journal
  • Payment of travel expenses to present papers at a national redistricting reform symposium

See submission requirements here.

If you have any questions, contact Dan Vicuna at (213) 623-1216 or contest@commoncause.org.

2015 Winners:

The final versions of each of our inaugural winning papers were published in Election Law Journal in December of 2015. 

1st place - Michael D. McDonald and Robin E. Best of Binghamton University (SUNY), authors of  “Unfair Partisan Gerrymanders in Politics and Law: A Diagnostic Applied to Six Cases”

2nd place - Jowei Chen from the University of Michigan and Jonathan Rodden of Stanford University, authors of  “Cutting through the Thicket: Redistricting Simulations and the Detection of Partisan Gerrymanders”

3rd place - Anthony McGann from the University of Strathclyde, Charles Anthony Smith and Alex Keena from UC Irvine, and Michael Latner from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, authors of “A Discernable and Manageable Standard for Partisan Gerrymandering"

2015 Judging Panel:

Norm Ornstein (co - chair) – Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute

Dan Tokaji (co - chair) – Charles W. Ebersold and Florence Whitcomb Ebersold Professor of Constitutional Law and Senior Fellow for Election Law at The Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law

Jocelyn Benson – Dean of Wayne State University Law School; chair of Common Cause Michigan

Guy-Uriel Charles – Charles S. Rhyne Professor of Law; Senior Associate Dean for Faculty & Research; and founding director of the Duke Law Center on Law, Race and Politics at Duke Law School

Allison Hayward – Board member of the Office of Congressional Ethics; former Vice President of Policy at the Center for Competitive Politics and counsel to FEC Commissioner Bradley Smith

Derek Muller – Associate Professor at Pepperdine University School of Law 

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