Common Cause Files & Coordinates Bipartisan Amici in Landmark Supreme Court Challenge to Maryland Democrats’ Partisan Gerrymander

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Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Kasich, Gray Davis, & Larry Hogan Join Challenge

Today, Common Cause joined an ideologically diverse group of governors, members of Congress, local government leaders, and others in filing amicus briefs urging the Supreme Court to put an end to partisan gerrymandering. On March 28, the Court will hear arguments in Benisek v. Lamone, a First Amendment challenge to Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District, which Democrats drew after the 2010 census in a successful attempt to defeat a longtime Republican incumbent. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, it could result in a nationwide prohibition against the manipulation of legislative boundaries for political advantage.

In addition to its own brief, Common Cause coordinated multiple amici briefs by a bipartisan group of members of the U.S. House of Representatives, current and former Democratic and Republican Governors, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Kasich, Gray Davis and Larry Hogan, and another by local government leaders.

“Gerrymandering is not a Republican or Democrat issue – it is a voter’s issue. Politicians of both parties draw maps to benefit their own interests – but never the voters,” said former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will hear our concerns and reject this fixed system that allows extreme partisanship and gridlock to grow and fester. It’s time to put the voters’ interests above the politicians, because the politicians have proven they are incapable of doing it on their own.”

“In a democracy, voters choose their politicians and politicians have no business choosing their voters for their own, or their party’s, gain,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause president. “When holding the reins of power, both Democrats and Republicans have proven eager to abuse the system at the expense of voters. That is why at Common Cause we have pushed ballot initiatives and bills in states controlled by both parties, and why we are involved in Court challenges to gerrymanders by both Democrats and Republicans. The courts and the polls are the only recourse to correct these bipartisan abuses of our democratic process.”

“The Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees its citizens’ freedom of speech, the right to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” said former California Gov. Gray Davis. “There can be no greater exercise of free speech, association, or redress than a citizen’s vote.  This most fundamental right is eviscerated when the levers of government are rigged for the retention of power, functionally giving voice to some while disenfranchising others.”

“Every Maryland resident deserves to have their voice heard in Washington, and at its heart this case is about the residents who lost their voice in the nation’s capital because the party in power chose to flip the seat for purely partisan purposes,” said Damon Effingham, acting executive director of Common Cause Maryland. “Politicians in Annapolis did a grave disservice to the residents of Western Maryland, shifting around voters and creating a district that was drastically changed to target an incumbent without regard to voters’ rights.”

The Common Cause brief stated that “(v)ote dilution has long been recognized to be a ‘manageable standard’ by which to measure the effect of an apportionment on the representational rights of voters,” and added that “(t)his Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence requires that such partisan gerrymanders be subjected to strict scrutiny under the First Amendment.”

In their brief, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and former California Govs. Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger urged the Supreme Court to act stating, “(w)e know firsthand that those who draw districts need neutral and independent judicial oversight.”

A bipartisan group of more than 20 current and former Members of Congress submitted an amicus brief that highlights how partisan gerrymanders subordinate voters of one political party and penalize them because of their political associations in violation of the First Amendment.

The International Municipal Lawyers Association, National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors, International City/County Management Association, and Santa Clara County (CA) argue in their brief that “mapmakers who engage in partisan gerrymandering possess the ability to swing the ideology of a state’s congressional delegation dramatically—without changing the mind of a single voter.”

Common Cause is represented by Emmet J. Bondurant and Benjamin W. Thorpe of Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, LLP and Gregory L. Diskant, Jonah M. Knobler, Peter A. Nelson and Elena Steiger Reich of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP.

To read the Common Cause brief, click here.

To read the Governors’ brief, drafted by Reed Smith LLP, click here.

To read the U.S. House members brief, drafted by the Constitutional Accountability Center, click here.

To read the brief from local government leaders, drafted by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, click here.