Jowei Chen, Jonah Knobler, Richard H Pildes, and Caroline Mackie Recognized
Washington, DC – Today, Common Cause honors four “Defenders of Democracy” who have played pivotal roles in reshaping America’s legal landscape to address the scourge of partisan gerrymandering. As the 2020 Decennial Census and the ensuing 2021 redistricting cycle fast approach, Common Cause recognizes the efforts of a small team of lawyers and experts who have successfully shifted the national conversation on redistricting – what is right and wrong, and how the law can provide meaningful remedies.
“We are pleased to recognize Jowei Chen, Jonah Knobler, Caroline Mackie, and Richard H. Pildes,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “We recognize them for their critical work as Defenders of Democracy to expose the unconstitutional manipulation and partisan motivations behind partisan gerrymandering. Others cynically said partisan gerrymandering was just politics as usual and could not be solved. Common Cause created a team of the best and brightest to tackle the problem head-on through litigation, fundamentally transforming America’s political landscape.”
Professor Jowei Chen, University of Michigan. Chen pioneered the “simulation approach” to create thousands of computer-simulated maps to show that challenged maps fall outside of expected outcomes and can only be explained as partisan gerrymanders. Chen’s expert testimony has been instrumental in states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina to efforts to successfully challenge partisan gerrymandering.
A partner at Patterson Belknap, Jonah Knobler has played a critical role on the pro bono legal team that brought the Rucho v. Common Cause, a lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging North Carolina’s congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. Additionally, Knobler and Patterson Belknap partner Greg Diskant worked with Common Cause to write and file amicus briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court Gill v. Whitford (partisan gerrymandering) and Evenwel v. Abbott (consideration of noncitizens in redistricting).
Caroline Mackie, partner at Poyner Spruill, was one of the central members of the legal team that challenged partisan redistricting of congressional seats in Common Cause v. Rucho, and of state legislative seats in Common Cause v. Lewis. Based in North Carolina, Mackie played significant roles as local counsel in the Lewis case, which recently successfully established landmark constitutional protections under North Carolina’s Free Elections clause against partisan gerrymanders. Mackie’s work, along with her colleague Eddie Speas at Poyner Spruill, has resulted in the overturning of North Carolina’s General Assembly districts, with order to redraw the lines in time for the 2020 elections.
Professor Richard H. Pildes is the Sudler Family Professor of Constitutional Law at New York University School of Law. With a high level of legal sophistication, Pildes understood with clarity that Common Cause’s approach to create a constitutional standard to eliminate partisan gerrymandering was fundamentally different from the proportional approaches raised by previous cases. Pildes volunteered his constitutional expertise to support Common Cause’s efforts to challenge partisan gerrymanders. While the Supreme Court declined to find federal jurisdiction over partisan gerrymander challenges, Common Cause v. Rucho now stands for an affirmation of states as the laboratories for innovation to address partisan gerrymandering – whether through initiative reforms or challenges under state constitutions.
“Partisan gerrymandering has stripped millions of Americans of a voice in our democracy, in North Carolina and across the country,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina. “As a result of our case, Common Cause v. Lewis, the court stood up for the rights of those voters under the state constitution. This victory joins a growing list of victories in the fight to end gerrymandering nationwide. With the efforts of Jowei Chen, Jonah Knobler, Caroline Mackie, Richard H. Pildes, and a team of unsung heroes, we have secured justice for North Carolina voters in the Common Cause v. Lewis case. In other states the fight will go on in state courts, in legislatures, and through ballot initiatives to ensure every voter across this country has a voice at the polls.”