Rucho v. Common Cause

Citation139 S.Ct. 2484,204 L.Ed.2d 931
Decision Date27 June 2019
Docket NumberNos. 18–422,18–726,s. 18–422
Parties Robert A. RUCHO, et al., Appellants v. COMMON CAUSE, et al.; and Linda H. Lamone, et al., Appellants v. O. John Benisek, et al.
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

139 S.Ct. 2484
204 L.Ed.2d 931

Robert A. RUCHO, et al., Appellants
Linda H. Lamone, et al., Appellants
O. John Benisek, et al.

Nos. 18–422

Supreme Court of the United States.

June 27, 2019

Paul D. Clement, Washington, DC, for the appellants in No. 18-422.

Emmet J. Bondurant, II, Atlanta, GA, for appellees Common Cause, et al.

Allison J. Riggs, Durham, NC, for appellees The League of Women Voters of North Carolina.

Solicitor General Steven M. Sullivan for the appellants in No. 18-726.

Michael B. Kimberly, Washington, DC, for the respondents in No. 18-726.

Phillip J. Strach, Michael D. McKnight, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak &, Stewart, P.C., Raleigh, NC, Paul D. Clement, Erin E. Murphy, Andrew C. Lawrence, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Washington, DC, for Appellants Robert A. Rucho, David R., Lewis, Timothy K. Moore, and Philip E. Berger.

Gregory L. Diskant, Jonah M. Knobler, Peter A. Nelson, Elena Steiger Reich, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, New York, NY, Emmet J. Bondurant, Benjamin W. Thorpe, Bondurant Mixson & Elmore LLP, Atlanta, GA, Edwin M. Speas, Jr., Steven B. Epstein, Caroline P. Mackie, Poyner Spruill LLP, Raleigh, NC, Richard H. Pildes, New York, NY, for Appellees Common Cause, et al.

Nicholas Stephanopoulos, University of Chicago Law School, Chicago, IL, Allison J. Riggs, Jaclyn Maffetore, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Durham, NC, Paul M. Smith, Campaign Legal Center, Washington, DC, Ruth M. Greenwood, Annabelle E. Harless, Campaign Legal Center, Chicago, IL, for Appellees League of Women Voters of North Carolina, et al.

Chief Justice ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

139 S.Ct. 2491

Voters and other plaintiffs in North Carolina and Maryland challenged their States’ congressional districting maps as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. The North Carolina plaintiffs complained that the State’s districting plan discriminated against Democrats; the Maryland plaintiffs complained that their State’s plan discriminated against Republicans. The plaintiffs alleged that the gerrymandering violated the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Elections Clause, and Article I, § 2, of the Constitution. The District Courts in both cases ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and the defendants appealed directly to this Court.

These cases require us to consider once again whether claims of excessive partisanship in districting are "justiciable"—that is, properly suited for resolution by the federal courts. This Court has not previously struck down a districting plan as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, and has struggled without success over the past several decades to discern judicially manageable standards for deciding such claims. The districting plans at issue here are highly partisan, by any measure. The question is whether the courts below appropriately exercised judicial power when they found them unconstitutional as well.



The first case involves a challenge to the congressional redistricting plan enacted by the Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly in 2016. Rucho v. Common Cause . The Republican legislators leading the redistricting effort instructed their mapmaker to use political data to draw a map that would produce a congressional delegation of ten Republicans and three Democrats. 318 F.Supp.3d 777, 807–808 (M.D.N.C. 2018). As one of the two Republicans chairing the redistricting committee stated, "I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats. So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country." Id. , at 809. He further explained that the map was drawn with the aim of electing ten Republicans and three Democrats because he did "not believe it [would be] possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats." Id. , at 808. One Democratic state senator objected that entrenching the 10–3 advantage for Republicans was not "fair, reasonable, [or] balanced" because, as recently as 2012, "Democratic congressional candidates had received more votes on a statewide basis than Republican candidates." Ibid. The General Assembly was not swayed by that objection and approved the 2016 Plan by a party-line vote. Id. , at 809.

In November 2016, North Carolina conducted congressional elections using the 2016 Plan, and Republican candidates won 10 of the 13 congressional districts. Id. , at 810. In the 2018 elections, Republican candidates won nine congressional districts, while Democratic candidates won three.

139 S.Ct. 2492

The Republican candidate narrowly prevailed in the remaining district, but the State Board of Elections called a new election after allegations of fraud.

This litigation began in August 2016, when the North Carolina Democratic Party, Common Cause (a nonprofit organization), and 14 individual North Carolina voters sued the two lawmakers who had led the redistricting effort and other state defendants in Federal District Court. Shortly thereafter, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and a dozen additional North Carolina voters filed a similar complaint. The two cases were consolidated.

The plaintiffs challenged the 2016 Plan on multiple constitutional grounds. First, they alleged that the Plan violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by intentionally diluting the electoral strength of Democratic voters. Second, they claimed that the Plan violated their First Amendment rights by retaliating against supporters of Democratic candidates on the basis of their political beliefs. Third, they asserted that the Plan usurped the right of "the People" to elect their preferred candidates for Congress, in violation of the requirement in Article I, § 2, of the Constitution that Members of the House of Representatives be chosen "by the People of the several States." Finally, they alleged that the Plan violated the Elections Clause by exceeding the State’s delegated authority to prescribe the "Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections" for Members of Congress.

After a four-day trial, the three-judge District Court unanimously concluded that the 2016 Plan violated the Equal Protection Clause and Article I of the Constitution. The court further held, with Judge Osteen dissenting, that the Plan violated the First Amendment. Common Cause v. Rucho , 279 F.Supp.3d 587 (M.D.N.C. 2018). The defendants appealed directly to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1253.

While that appeal was pending, we decided Gill v. Whitford , 585 U.S. ––––, 138 S.Ct. 1916, 201 L.Ed.2d 313 (2018), a partisan gerrymandering case out of Wisconsin. In that case, we held that a plaintiff asserting a partisan gerrymandering claim based on a theory of vote dilution must establish standing by showing he lives in an allegedly "cracked" or "packed" district. Id. , at ––––, 138 S.Ct., at 1931. A "cracked" district is one in which a party’s supporters are divided among multiple districts, so that they fall short of a majority in each; a "packed" district is one in which a party’s supporters are highly concentrated, so they win that district by a large margin, "wasting" many votes that would improve their chances in others. Id. , at –––– – ––––, 138 S.Ct., at 1924

After deciding Gill , we remanded the present case for further consideration by the District Court. 585 U.S. ––––, 138 S.Ct. 1916, 201 L.Ed.2d 313 (2018). On remand, the District Court again struck down the 2016 Plan. 318 F.Supp.3d 777. It found standing and concluded that the case was appropriate for judicial resolution. On the merits, the court found that "the General Assembly’s predominant intent was to discriminate against voters who supported or were likely to support non-Republican candidates," and to "entrench Republican candidates" through widespread cracking and packing of Democratic voters. Id. , at 883–884. The court rejected the defendants’ arguments that the distribution of Republican and Democratic voters throughout North Carolina and the interest in protecting incumbents neutrally explained the 2016 Plan’s discriminatory effects. Id. , at 896–899. In the end, the District Court held that 12 of the 13 districts constituted partisan gerrymanders that violated the Equal Protection Clause. Id. , at 923.

139 S.Ct. 2493

The court also agreed with the plaintiffs that the 2016 Plan discriminated against them because of their political speech and association, in violation of the First Amendment. Id. , at 935. Judge Osteen dissented with respect to that ruling. Id. , at 954–955. Finally, the District Court concluded that the 2016 Plan violated the Elections Clause and Article I, § 2. Id. , at 935–941. The District Court enjoined the State from using the 2016 Plan in any election after the November 2018 general election. Id. , at 942.

The defendants again appealed to this Court, and we postponed jurisdiction. 586 U.S. ––––, 139 S.Ct. 783, 202 L.Ed.2d 510 (2019).


The second case before us is Lamone v. Benisek . In 2011, the Maryland Legislature—dominated by Democrats—undertook to redraw the lines of that State’s eight congressional districts. The Governor at the time, Democrat Martin O’Malley, led the process. He appointed a redistricting committee to help redraw the map, and...

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