Monday, August 27, 2018
In an extensive opinion, a three judge court in Common Cause v. Rucho (& League of Women Voters v. Rucho) held that North Carolina's 2016 redistricting plan was a product of partisan gerrymandering and violates the Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and Article I of the Constitution.
The opinion is almost 300 pages with an additional comparatively brief 25 plus page concurring and dissenting opinion, but the three judge court is often discussing familiar matters. Recall that the court had reached this result in January 2018. However, recall also that the United States Supreme Court issued a stay shortly thereafter. In July 2018, the United States Supreme Court vacated the three judge court's decision in Rucho in light of Gill v. Whitford (2018), which, the three judge court states, "addressed what evidence a plaintiff must put forward to establish Article III standing to lodge a partisan vote dilution claim under the Equal Protection Clause." The three judge court's opinion in Rucho holds that standing was satisfied under the Gill test as to equal protection and further that "Gill did not call into question—and, if anything, supported—this Court’s previous determination that Plaintiffs have standing to assert partisan gerrymandering claims under Article I and the First Amendment."
As for the merits, Gill v. Whitford is not particularly useful; as we said when Gill was decided, it (with the per curiam decision in Benisek v. Lamone, "leave the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering as unsettled as before." Thus, the three judge court had little guidance to reconsider its previous conclusions.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the three judge court's decision today in Rucho, however, is the remedy: the court notes that the circumstances are unusual and writes:
we decline to rule out the possibility that the State should be enjoined from conducting any further congressional elections using the 2016 Plan. For example, it may be possible for the State to conduct a general election using a constitutionally compliant districting plan without holding a primary election. Or, it may be viable for the State to conduct a primary election on November 6, 2018, using a constitutionally compliant congressional districting plan, and then conduct a general election sometime before the new Congress is seated in January 2019. Accordingly, no later than 5 p.m. on August 31, 2018, the parties shall file briefs addressing whether this Court should allow the State to conduct any future election using the 2016 Plan. Those briefs should discuss the viability of the alternatives discussed above, as well as any other potential schedules for conducting elections using a constitutionally compliant plan that would not unduly interfere with the State’s election machinery or confuse voters. Regardless of whether we ultimately allow the State to use the 2016 Plan in the 2018 election, we hereby enjoin the State from conducting any elections using the 2016 Plan in any election after the November 6, 2018, election.
[emphasis in original].
The November election is in 70 days.