Common Cause Files SCOTUS Brief & Coordinates Amici in Landmark Challenge to Wisconsin Partisan Gerrymander

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  • dan vicuna, david vance

Late yesterday, Common Cause filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in Gill v. Whitford in support of plaintiffs’ challenge to Wisconsin’s partisan gerrymander which was ruled unconstitutional by a federal three-judge panel. Common Cause also played a key role in coordinating amici in the case.

The Supreme Court is currently weighing the decision of the three-judge panel which found the Wisconsin State Assembly map legislators approved following the 2010 census is an illegal partisan gerrymander. The Court can end excessive partisan manipulation of district lines across the country by upholding that ruling. Although federal courts have previously ruled that maps violated the Constitution due to illegal racial gerrymandering, this is the first ever federal ruling that a single-member district plan was drawn illegally for partisan advantage. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that partisan gerrymandering claims are justiciable.

“Modern technology and big data have allowed politicians to turn the manipulation of our elections through extreme partisan gerrymandering into an exact science,” said Dan Vicuña, Common Cause National Redistricting Manager. “Legislators can preordain results that keep them in power for an entire decade, so it’s up to the Supreme Court to uphold our Constitution and protect the fundamental right of Americans to fair representation.”

“Every American wants to have a voice and a vote in the policies that determine the future for our families and communities. But gerrymandering turns citizens away from our democratic process by removing any real choice in our elections for far too many Americans,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “Politicians are safeguarding their own seats by handpicking their constituents and potential voters understand this and end up staying away from the polls. The Supreme Court has recognized that partisan gerrymanders disenfranchise citizens and now has the opportunity with this case to reaffirm the three judge panel and restore the vote to millions of Americans who have effectively lost their voices in our elections.”

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Gill next month. Common Cause has collaborated with the Campaign Legal Center, which is litigating Gill, and the Brennan Center for Justice on the organizing of amicus briefs to ensure that the Court hears from a wide range of organizations and individuals who could tell the story of how gerrymandering has harmed our democracy and from legal and political science academics who could make the case that the Supreme Court can and should place a limit on extreme partisan gerrymandering. Some of the briefs Common Cause helped to organize 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 (Florida) making the case that redistricting does not have to be a process defined by extreme partisanship
  • A Republican statewide elected officials brief (Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Kasich, Bob Dole, Richard Lugar, John Danforth, Christie Todd Whitman, and others) 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, National Education Association, Wisconsin Education Association Council, the Wisconsin superintendent of public instruction, and the executive director of Wisconsin Wildlife Federation discussing how gerrymandering skews policy outcomes
  • A bipartisan brief from 65 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 it creates
  • A brief from the National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors, International City/County Management Association, International Municipal Lawyers Association, and local government law professors 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 factual errors in the Wisconsin State Legislature’s brief in the case.

In addition to supporting plaintiff’s case in Gill, the Common Cause brief also urges the Court, regardless of how it decides the case, not to foreclose or prejudge other pending partisan-gerrymandering cases with different facts, theories, and evidence. Common Cause v. Rucho, a challenge to North Carolina’s congressional map on partisan grounds, is currently making its way through the courts and is slated to be heard by a three-judge panel. Common Cause has also filed a brief in another court challenge to gerrymandered voting maps drawn by Maryland Democrats (Benisek v. Lamone).

To read the Common Cause Gill v. Whitford briefs, click here.