This past term, the firm again filed an amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court in a pair of partisan gerrymandering cases: Rucho v. Common Cause and Lamone v. Besinek (we filed briefs in similar cases in the 2017 term). Our clients included a wide range of nonpartisan organizations and governmental entities that pursue public policy goals through legislative action and are therefore invested in fair elections.
In Rucho, the Court considered North Carolina’s 2016 congressional map, which was drawn with the primary goal of creating as many districts as possible in which Republican candidates would win seats. In Lamone, the Court evaluated Maryland’s 2011 congressional map, which was intentionally created to favor Democratic candidates. In both states, the lawmakers who crafted the redistricting plans conceded their intent to gerrymander for partisan benefit, and they used highly sophisticated techniques to redraw electoral districts to entrench their power. In both cases, the plans in fact produced the intended partisan electoral advantage while undermining the will of North Carolina and Maryland voters.
The firm’s amicus brief argued that voters should choose their representatives, and not the other way around. Election manipulation through partisan gerrymandering violates fundamental democratic principles by subverting representative government and rendering elected officials unaccountable to their constituents. The brief urged the Supreme Court to adopt clear standards for determining when the manipulation of an electoral map crosses a constitutional line.
Although the Supreme Court has long recognized that severe partisan gerrymanders are “incompatible” with “democratic principles,” and it has successfully developed and applied legal standards to safeguard the constitutional integrity of the electoral process in other types of redistricting challenges, it ruled that it could not set a constitutional standard to limit partisan gerrymandering. In a 5-4 decision, the court concluded that partisan gerrymandering presents a “political question” that federal courts cannot police.
Despite this disappointing decision, the fight for fair elections continues. Although the Supreme Court declined to put an end to extreme partisan gerrymandering, challenges to this undemocratic practice are proceeding in state courts under state constitutions. Moreover, voters are continuing to seek fair redistricting in their states through ballot initiatives, new state laws, and independent redistricting commissions.