In America, no liberty is more fundamental than the right to freely choose our representatives through voting. Learn more about some of the most important ongoing and recent court cases impacting fair representation and gerrymandering.
Common Cause v. Trump
On July 23, 2020, Common Cause sued the President in the D.C. federal District Court for this unconstitutional move to deprive cities and communities with large immigrant populations of equal representation in Congress and to threaten their ability to access federal resources that rely on census data.
People Not Politicians Oregon v. Clarno
On July 10, 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. McShane ruled that Oregon violated the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of Common Cause Oregon and our allies in the People Not Politicians Oregon coalition by adhering strictly to ballot initiative signature requirements during a pandemic. Judge McShane ordered Oregon's secretary of state to either accept the more than 64,000 signatures the coalition has already submitted and place the redistricting reform initiative on the November 2020 ballot or give the campaign until August 17, 2020 to collect 58,789 signatures.
Legislature of the State of California v. Padilla
In light of the Census Bureau’s delay in the delivery of census data due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the California State Legislature petitioned the California Supreme Court to extend the deadlines for submission of new district maps by the state’s independent redistricting commission. California Common Cause, along with the League of Women Voters of California and former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, submitted an amicus letter to the Court in support of the Legislature’s petition. On July 17, 2020, the California Supreme Court granted the Legislature’s petition, extending the state’s redistricting deadlines in light of the census data delay.
Other 2020 Redistricting Ballot Initiative Signature Gathering Cases
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it very difficult to gather signatures for ballot initiative campaigns to reform redistricting. Activists in Arkansas and Nevada sued in federal court to change state law and reduce the barriers that make signature-gathering challenging during a public health crisis. Learn about each case.
Free Elections Clauses
State courts in North Carolina and Pennsylvania struck down state legislative and congressional districts, respectively, under each state constitution's version of a "free elections" clause. The courts in both cases ruled that these clauses provide greater protections for voters than what the U.S. Constitution provides. This could be an important tool in challenging gerrymanders when districts across the country are redrawn next year.
Daunt v. Benson and Michigan Republican Party v. Benson
Political insiders tried to strike back at Michigan voters for passing a ballot initiative to take the power to draw districts away from politicians and creating an independent citizens redistricting commission. A federal district court and a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiffs' challenge to the commission. On June 18, 2020, the full Sixth Circuit denied the plaintiffs’ request for a rehearing.
Common Cause v. Lewis
Common Cause is a plaintiff in a successful challenge to North Carolina’s state legislative maps. After some of the state House and state Senate districts were struck down as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders in 2017, leaders in the legislature redrew districts on partisan grounds. And it worked. In both the state House and state Senate elections in 2018, Democratic candidates won a majority of the statewide vote, but Republicans still won a substantial majority of the seats in each chamber. 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 violates the North Carolina Constitution, 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. The trial court ruled in our favor and struck down the maps. The court approved new maps on October 28, 2019.
Rucho v. Common Cause
Common Cause was a plaintiff in a challenge to North Carolina’s congressional map that the U.S. Supreme Court heard earlier this year. After the map was struck down as an unconstitutional racial gerrymander in 2016, leaders in the legislature announced that they would redraw districts with the explicit intent to ensure that 10 of 13 remain in Republican control. Common Cause sued on the grounds that the new districts are an illegal partisan gerrymander. The trial court ruled in our favor on all counts. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision, ruling in a 5-4 opinion that partisan gerrymandering is a non-justiciable political question that federal courts cannot police.
Lamone v. Benisek
In a case originally brought by a Common Cause Maryland member, Steve Shapiro, plaintiffs argue that Maryland’s congressional map is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. Following the 2010 census, the Democratic governor and Democrats in the legislature successfully conspired to draw districts that would ensure the defeat of one of the state’s two Republican members of Congress. After a unanimous vote in the U.S. Supreme Court allowing the case to proceed, the case went to trial. On November 7, 2018, the trial court ruled that Maryland's Sixth Congressional District violates the First Amendment rights of Maryland voters. Maryland appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which was decided jointly with Rucho v. Common Cause on June 27, 2019.
Gill v. Whitford
The Campaign Legal Center won a historic victory when a federal court struck down Wisconsin’s State Assembly map as an illegal partisan gerrymander. Wisconsin appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in October 2017. Common Cause is one of the lead organizations that managed amicus briefs supporting the plaintiffs’ efforts. The briefs demonstrated the broad and bipartisan support for an end to the manipulation of our legislative districts. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Rucho v. Common Cause and Lamone v. Benisek effectively ended this case.
Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission
Common Cause led the organizing of amicus briefs in a successful effort to defend the constitutionality of independent citizen redistricting commissions.
Evenwel v. Abbott
Common Cause offered a brief advancing a legal theory cited in parts of the decision that when drawing state legislative districts, effective constituent service requires counting every resident and not just voters. We also organized a separate brief signed by 19 counties and cities across the country in support of equal representation.
Abbott v. Perez
Following the 2010 census, the Texas State Legislature drew U.S. House of Representatives and Texas House of Representatives districts that weakened the voting strength of minority voters. Their goal was to ensure partisan advantage and the means of doing so was to make it harder for people of color to elect their candidates of choice. As the trial court ruled, this violates the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court heard Texas's appeal of the trial court decision, consolidated cases both titled Abbott v. Perez, on April 24, 2018. Common Cause filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiff-appellees challenging the maps. On June 25, 2018, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court ruling and held that only one state legislative district was an illegal racial gerrymander.
League of Women Voters of Florida v. Detzner
Common Cause was a co-plaintiff in separate challenges to Florida’s congressional and state senate map. Common Cause’s impartial maps ultimately were adopted by Florida courts to remedy a blatant partisan gerrymander. Working with allies, we successfully demonstrated partisan intent and forced new districts to be drawn. In the case of both congressional and state senate districts, our impartial maps were adopted.
Hooker v. Illinois Board of Elections
We filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of Illinois supporting the placement of the Illinois Independent Map Amendment on the November ballot. Illinois is another state in which Democrats manipulated districts for partisan advantage. The court voted on a party-line basis to keep the reform initiative off of the 2016 ballot.
Favors v. Cuomo
In New York, Common Cause drew an impartial congressional map which was adopted in major part by the federal court, resulting in fair congressional districts in New York State. As a result, New York has become a battleground for control of Congress, with voters empowered to choose their own representatives in numerous districts.