Supreme Court Ducks Responsibility to End Gerrymandering 

WASHINGTON D.C. — Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in two landmark redistricting cases, Rucho v. Common Cause and Lamone v. Benisek. In a 34-page decision written by Justice Roberts, the majority concluded it could not set a constitutional standard against partisan gerrymandering.   

Statement from Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn:  

“Today, five Supreme Court Justices turned their backs on hundreds of thousands of people in Maryland and North Carolina stripped of their voice in Washington by power-hungry politicians.  The Supreme Court had the opportunity to end partisan gerrymandering once and for all but instead a narrow majority chose to wash their hands of the undemocratic practice.  

“Without recourse to the Supreme Court, the American people must continue to take the battle to the state courts, to the polls, and to the streets, to make their voices heard and to end partisan gerrymandering once and for all.”  

“This decision is part of a disturbing pattern from the Roberts Court of undercutting or eviscerating reforms passed by Congress to protect the integrity of our democracy. This Supreme Court has gutted the landmark Voting Rights Act, shredded campaign finance limits in Citizens United, and now it has condoned extreme partisan gerrymandering.”   

Statement from Common Cause North Carolina Executive Director Bob Phillips:  

“This ruling is a bitter disappointment. And make no mistake about it, there are victims of this decision.  The victims are those North Carolinians who do not have a voice in Washington because the Supreme Court has condoned an abusive partisan gerrymander. Legislators freely and publicly admitted that their goal was to carve out and hold a 10-3 advantage in U.S. House seats for their own party despite the fact that the votes cast in those races would split nearly down the middle.   

We will continue to seek justice for the people of our state through our challenge of partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts as a violation of the North Carolina Constitution. We are confident that justice will prevail in the North Carolina courts and we will continue to work with state lawmakers to pass legislation to reform our broken redistricting system that has left far too many without a voice in Raleigh.”  

Statement from Common Cause National Redistricting Director Kathay Feng:  

“In a democracy, voters should choose their politicians, not the other way around, on Election Day.   

“But the Supreme Court today gave the green light to the most extreme partisan gerrymanders, where legislators openly boasted about their partisan motives, stripping not only the people of North Carolina and Maryland, but all Americans, of the right to fair representation.   

“To bring about fair maps, the people must continue to make their voice heard through ballot initiatives, new state laws, and appeals to state courts to reform the redistricting process.    

State Litigation and Reforms 

Common Cause will continue to pursue an end to gerrymandering through state litigation. Common Cause filed a legal challenge to the North Carolina state legislative maps in the Superior Court Division of Wake County, North Carolina. The case, Common Cause v. Lewis, goes to trial on July 15, 2019.  

After some of the state House and state Senate districts were struck down as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders in 2017, Republican leaders redrew districts on partisan grounds. The state GOP won substantially more seats in the 2018 elections even though Democrats got more votes.   

Common Cause sued on the grounds that the 2017 plans are unconstitutional, invalid and impervious to the will of the voters. Common Cause asked the state court to rule that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, to prevent the defendants from using the 2017 Plans for the 2020 primary and general elections, and to establish new plans for the 2020 elections that comply with the state constitution.   

Unlike the Supreme Court, lower courts have ruled against gerrymanders. Over 38 percent of state and congressional district maps drawn by politicians in the 2010-cycle were either struck down by courts or drawn by courts when politicians failed to draw maps, compared to just 11 percent of those drawn by independent citizen commissions with partisan balance.  

Common Cause is working in multiple states to pass reforms in advance of the 2020 census, which triggers the once-in-a-decade redistricting process.   

States including Arkansas and Oregon are eyeing the 2020 ballot with proposals for impartial, citizen-led commissions. Minnesota and Pennsylvania are working on redistricting legislation. And California is taking its redistricting reforms to the county and city level.