Lamone v. Benisek
Latest Update: On June 27th the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in two landmark redistricting cases, Lamone v. Benisek and Rucho v. Common Cause. In a 72-page decision written by Justice Roberts, the majority concluded it could not set a constitutional standard against partisan gerrymandering.
Lamone is an appeal of the victory plaintiffs won when a three-judge federal district court panel ruled that Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District violates the First Amendment and ordered a redraw of the state’s congressional map.
The Original Case
After the 2010 census, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and the Democratic legislature drew a congressional map designed to increase Democrats’ share of the state’s eight congressional districts from six to seven. They succeeded by moving Democratic voters in the Washington, DC suburbs into the Sixth Congressional District, which was previously anchored in conservative Western Maryland.
Common Cause Maryland member Stephen Shapiro challenged this map in court without the help of an attorney in 2013. After a single judge dismissed the case, Michael Kimberly at the Mayer Brown law firm took on the case pro bono and appealed the decision. In a unanimous 2015 opinion authored by Justice Scalia, the Court stated in Shapiro v. McManus that the case should have been heard by a three-judge panel. The court added that it should not have been dismissed as “wholly insubstantial” or “obviously frivolous” because, whatever those terms mean “they cannot include a plea for relief based on a legal theory put forward by a Justice of this Court and uncontradicted by the majority in any of our cases.” Justice Scalia was referring to the plaintiffs’ First Amendment claim and Justice Kennedy’s concurring opinion in Vieth v. Jubelirer (2004), in which Kennedy states:
“The First Amendment may be the more relevant constitutional provision in future cases that allege unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering. After all, these allegations involve the First Amendment interest of not burdening or penalizing citizens because of their participation in the electoral process, their voting history, their association with a political party, or their expression of political views.”
Back to the Supreme Court
When the case went before a three-judge panel, the plaintiffs filed a preliminary injunction to prevent the use of the current map in the 2018 elections. Plaintiffs argue that the manipulation of the Sixth Congressional District is a violation of voters’ First Amendment free speech and association rights. After the panel denied the preliminary injunction, the plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court. In an unexpected move, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case at this early stage in the litigation before there had even been a full trial. Oral arguments occurred on March 28, 2018. Read key amicus briefs Common Cause helped to organize in this case. Below are some of the briefs filed on behalf of the plaintiffs challenging Maryland’s congressional gerrymander. The Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s denial of the preliminary injunction motion and sent the case back for a full hearing.
Victory and Appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court
On January 4, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Lamone v. Benisek. This case is an appeal of the trial court’s ruling that Maryland violated the First Amendment when Democratic leaders drew the Sixth Congressional District for the purpose of discriminating against Republicans to add one more Democratic seat. Calling gerrymandering “repugnant to representative democracy,” the court ordered the General Assembly to draw a new U.S. House map for use in the 2020 election. However, the trial court stayed its own judgment until the U.S. Supreme Court decides an appeal of the case or July 1, 2019, whichever comes first. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on March 26, 2019, and decided the case June 27, 2019.