Redistricting & Partisan Gerrymandering Lawsuits
SNAPSHOT: Why do these Supreme Court decisions matter to LWVMN and to Minnesota?
The Supreme Court determined that no manageable test exists to evaluate when partisan gerrymandering might be unconstitutional. Now, the federal constitution does not protect voters from politicians that gerrymander maps for partisan benefit.
Regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision today, one thing remains clear: states are wholly within their right to ensure that our electoral maps are drawn without the intent or effect of discriminating against voters that affiliate with a one political party or another.
Here in Minnesota, every voice matters, and every vote counts. If politicians draw maps, they may be tempted to draw maps intentionally to favor their own party. And, as they have done historically, they will draft maps behind closed doors, only allowing public testimony on the maps once they are effectively decided.
Minnesotans know that cheaters shouldn’t win. Instead, we should have an open and honest process that results in accurate representation of Minnesotans.
That’s why the League of Women Voters has been working hard on redistricting with organizations like Common Cause Minnesota.
Minnesota can find solutions, even if the Supreme Court cannot. America’s political system, our representative democracy, has always been a work in progress. Today, it’s clear that the work continues, and the League will not back down until we have a system in place that works for everyone.
LAWSUIT ALLEGING PARTISAN GERRYMANDERING BY DEMOCRATS IN MARYLAND
Maryland Voters Sue Over Maps Drawn by Democrats
In 2013, Maryland voters sued over their congressional districts, claiming that the districts were partisan gerrymanders that were intended to reduce the political power of Republicans in Maryland. The voters claimed that these partisan gerrymanders violated the First Amendment protection of political association. Whether partisan gerrymandering violates the First Amendment, what has to be shown to prove a violation, and whether it can be remedied by courts, have all been legal gray areas.
District Court Decision
The district court decided that partisan gerrymandering could violate the First Amendment. It also determined that voters could challenge partisan gerrymanders if they showed that there was specific intent to gerrymander based on political affiliation, that the maps diluted or burdened the power of voters, and that the dilution was caused by the intent to gerrymander. The district court then determined that the Maryland voters proved their case under that test.
The state appealed directly to the Supreme Court, asking the Court to decide that the district court’s test for partisan gerrymandering was unmanageable and too difficult to implement. It also asked the Supreme Court to conclude that the district court made other procedural errors.
Supreme Court Decision
At the Supreme Court, this case was decided simultaneously and by the same court opinion as the case from North Carolina. Continue reading below for that decision.
LAWSUIT ALLEGING PARTISAN GERRYMANDERING BY REPUBLICANS IN NORTH CAROLINA
North Carolina Voters Sue Over Maps Drawn by Republicans
Voters in North Carolina sued over congressional districts, alleging that the districts were partisan gerrymanders. They alleged that the partisan gerrymanders violated the First Amendment right to political affiliation, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the right to elect representatives in Article I of the U.S. Constitution. Whether partisan gerrymandering violates these provisions of the Constitution, what has to be shown to prove a violation, and whether it can be remedied by courts, have all been legal gray areas.
District Court Decision
The district court concluded that the partisan gerrymandering could violate all the three parts of the Constitution (First Amendment, Equal Protection Clause, and Article I). The district court also believed that the voters proved their case. In particular, witnesses during hearings stated that the state legislature had explicitly intended to engage in partisan gerrymandering. For example, one legislator testified that he wanted “the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats” because he did not believe it would be “possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats.”
The legislature of North Carolina was able to appeal directly to the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court Decision
The Supreme Court determined that partisan gerrymandering is a “political question,” meaning that it is not a problem that a federal court can solve. Instead, the Court believes this issue is one that must either be resolved by Congress or at the state level, either by state legislatures or by ballot initiatives.
Voters in Minnesota cannot protect themselves against partisan gerrymanders by using the U.S. Constitution. If Minnesotans want protection against partisan gerrymandering, they will need to pass a state law or change the state constitution for protection.