Facts of the Case
Plaintiffs Robert A. Rucho and other voters in North Carolina and Maryland filed lawsuits in federal district court challenging their States’ congressional districting maps as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. The North Carolina plaintiffs claimed that the State’s districting plan discriminated against Democrats, while the Maryland plaintiffs claimed that their State’s plan discriminated against Republicans. Plaintiffs alleged violations of the
Do the plaintiffs in this case have standing to pursue their partisan gerrymandering claims?Are the plaintiffs’ partisan gerrymandering claims justiciable?Is North Carolina’s 2016 congressional map an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander?
Partisan gerrymandering claims are not justiciable because they present a political question beyond the reach of the federal courts.Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the 5-4 majority opinion. Federal courts are charged with resolving cases and controversies of a judicial nature. In contrast, questions of a political nature are “nonjusticiable,” and the courts cannot resolve such questions. Partisan gerrymandering has existed since prior to the independence of the United States, and, aware of this occurrence, the Framers chose to empower state legislatures, “expressly checked and balanced by the Federal Congress” to handle these matters. While federal courts can resolve “a variety of questions surrounding districting,” including racial gerrymandering, it is beyond their power to decide the central question: when has political gerrymandering gone too far. In the absence of any “limited and precise standard” for evaluating partisan gerrymandering, federal courts cannot resolve such issues.Justice Elena Kagan filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor joined. Justice Kagan criticized the Court for sidestepping a critical question involving the violation of “the most fundamental of . . . constitutional rights: the rights to participate equally in the political process, to join with others to advance political beliefs, and to choose their political representatives.” Justice Kagan argued that by not intervening in the political gerrymanders, the Court effectively “encourage[s] a politics of polarization and dysfunction” that “may irreparably damage our system of government.” She argued that the standards adopted in lower courts across the country do meet the contours of the “limited and precise standard” the majority demanded yet purported not to find.This case was consolidated with Lamone v. Benisek , No. 18-726 , and the Court released a single opinion resolving both cases.
- Citation: 588 US _ (2019)
- Granted: Oct 3, 2018
- Argued: Mar 26, 2019
- Decided Jun 27, 2019