U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Hear North Carolina’s Partisan Gerrymandering Case at the Present

Voting Rights

Rucho v. League of Women Voters of NC sent back to District Court for reconsideration

WASHINGTON D.C. — Following its decision last week clarifying the standard for assessing whether challengers have standing to raise partisan gerrymandering claims, the U.S. Supreme Court sent North Carolina’s partisan gerrymandering challenge, Rucho v. League of Women Voters of North Carolina, back to a federal district court today for further analysis in light of the Whitford decision. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the Campaign Legal Center represent the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and individual plaintiffs in the case which has been combined with a parallel partisan gerrymandering challenge, Rucho v. Common Cause.

The decision to remand the case comes a week after the Supreme Court remanded two other partisan gerrymandering cases.  It is not an unexpected outcome.  In January 2018, a federal three-judge panel found the state’s U.S. Congressional plan to be an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander on multiple legal theories of injury.  Legislative defendants appealed that ruling, setting up today’s action from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, issued the following statement after the U.S. Supreme Court’s action:

“While it’s unfortunate that the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear this case right away, we are optimistic that the lower court will recognize, like they did in January, that North Carolina’s partisan gerrymandering is so egregious that it is unconstitutional and that our clients are the appropriate parties to be raising such claims.  The harm done to voters when they are packed and cracked into districts by that discriminate against them based on their political affiliations is clear and we will continue to pursue justice for our clients and all voters who deserve fair election districts. We hope to get this case back before the U.S. Supreme Court next term, in time for fair districts for 2020.”

Paul Smith, vice president of litigation and strategy at Campaign Legal Center, who argued Gill v. Whitford before the Court, issued the following statements after today’s decision:

“Americans overwhelmingly support the Supreme Court stepping in to end partisan gerrymandering, and that door is still open. The justices have returned the partisan gerrymander challenges from North Carolina, Wisconsin and Maryland to the lower courts with a clear roadmap of what it expects to see presented, and we plan to follow their guidance.”

More about Rucho v. League of Women Voters of North Carolina:

The partisan gerrymandering challenge was filed in September 2016 in the Middle District of North Carolina, where a three-judge panel was appointed to hear the case.

The challenge was heard in a four day trial in Greensboro, North Carolina, in October 2017.

On January 9, 2018, the three-judge panel found that North Carolina’s 2016 Congressional Plan that was adopted in February 2016 violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and Article I, Sections 2 and 4, of the United States Constitution. It does so by burdening voters’ freedom of speech and freedom to associate based on their political beliefs, as well as, by treating voters unequally by diluting the electoral influence of one party’s supporters.

On January 18, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay in the North Carolina case.  The lower court’s ruling was put on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court consideredWhitford v. Gill and Benisek v. Lamone, partisan gerrymandering challenges from Wisconsin and Maryland, respectively.

On June 18, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court remanded the Wisconsin and Maryland cases back to lower courts on technical grounds without ruling on the merits or standards put forth in the cases.

On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court remanded the Rucho v. League of Women Voters of North Carolina back to the federal district court to assess whether the decision in Whitford has any bearing on their January 2018 ruling.