Case Summary

This case involved two consolidated constitutional challenges to state congressional maps on partisan gerrymandering grounds: Rucho v. Common Cause & Benisek v. Lamone. In Rucho, a group of North Carolina voters alleged that their State's congressional districts were drawn to intentionally disfavor Democratic voters, while in Benisek, a group of Maryland voters alleged that their State's congressional districts were drawn to intentionally disfavor Republican voters. Both sets of plaintiffs claimed that by intentionally discriminating against voters based on their political affiliation, the plans violated the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, the Elections Clause, and Article I, Section 2. The U.S. District Courts in both cases ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and the defendants appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court conclusively held that partisan gerrymandering claims present nonjusticiable political questions which cannot be decided by federal courts. The Court's ruling hinged on the necessity of partisan gerrymandering claims being resolved through the application of a "clear, manageable, and politically neutral" standard, which the Court found had not emerged despite litigation on the issue spanning several decades. Having already recognized in earlier cases that partisan considerations when redistricting are unavoidable and constitutionally permissible to some degree, the Court explained that partisan gerrymandering claims imposes upon federal courts the vague and inherently policy-based task of determining when partisan dominance is "too much," a determination that they are not equipped to make in a legally sound and consistent manner. Further supporting their conclusion, the Court identified several alternative means to address the issue of partisan gerrymandering including the passing of State constitutional amendments and statutes, as several States had already successfully done, or Congressional action via the Elections Clause.

Significance: Partisan gerrymandering claims are non-justiciable political questions that cannot be decided by federal courts.

Case Library

U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina - 1:16-CV-1026 [together with League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho, No. 1:16-CV-1164]

U.S. Supreme Court - 18-422 [139 S.Ct. 2484 (2019)]