Supreme Court Takes Up New Cases on Partisan Gerrymandering

“The problem is cancerous,” he wrote, “undermining the fundamental tenets of our form of democracy.”

The challengers appealed to the Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled against them in June. In a short, unsigned opinion, the court said the challengers had waited too long to seek an injunction blocking the district.

In November, the three-judge panel took a fresh look at the case and ruled that the challenged district was unconstitutional. It barred state officials from conducting further congressional elections using the 2011 maps and ordered them to draw new ones.

The second case, Rucho v. Common Cause, No. 18-422, is an appeal from a decision in August by a three-judge panel of a Federal District Court in North Carolina. The ruling found that Republican legislators there had violated the Constitution by drawing the districts to hurt the electoral chances of Democratic candidates. The court stayed its decision, and the 2018 election was conducted under the old map.

The case had reached the Supreme Court once before. In June, the justices ordered the lower court to reconsider an earlier ruling in light of the Wisconsin decision. That earlier decision, issued in January, was the first from a federal court to strike down a congressional map as a partisan gerrymander.

After reconsidering the case, the three-judge panel basically reaffirmed its earlier ruling. The judges noted that the legislator responsible for drawing the map had not disguised his intentions. “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats,” said the legislator, Representative David Lewis, a Republican. “So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.”

The plan worked. In 2016, the court said, Republican congressional candidates won 53 percent of the statewide vote. But they won in 10 of the 13 congressional districts, or 77 percent of them. Depending on the outcome of one seat in the midterm elections last month, the numbers in the 2018 election will be identical or quite similar.

The Supreme Court has ruled that racial gerrymandering can violate the Constitution. But it has never struck down a voting map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.