The U.S. Supreme Court punted on the merits of partisan gerrymandering cases from Wisconsin and Maryland, ruling instead on narrow grounds of standing and process. The Court remanded the Wisconsin case back to the district court, and it affirmed a lower court’s decision to deny Maryland plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction against the congressional map there.
In the Wisconsin case, Gill vs. Whitford, the Court ruled that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate standing (PDF), which requires a “personal stake in the outcome” that plaintiffs were unable to prove. “This Court therefore lack[s] the power to resolve their claims,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority, which was unanimous on most points.
Plaintiffs – 12 Wisconsin voters – alleged harm statewide because Democrats “do not have the same opportunity provided to Republicans to elect representatives of their choice” in their challenge to the state’s entire redistricting plan. The Court reasoned that plaintiffs’ “injury is district specific,” which means any remedy must address that specific injury. “Remedying the individual voter’s harm, therefore, does not necessarily require restructuring all of the State’s legislative districts,” Roberts wrote.
However, plaintiffs did not prove any individual harm to themselves and instead rested “on their theory of statewide injury to Wisconsin Democrats.” Roberts cited this as a “fundamental problem” with the plaintiffs’ case: “It is a case about group political interests, not individual legal rights.”
The Court thus remanded the case back to district court “so that the plaintiffs may have an opportunity to prove concrete and particularlized injuries using evidence – unlike the bulk of the evidence presented thus far – that would tend to demonstrate a burden on their individual votes,” Roberts wrote. On this latter point, Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented, arguing that the case should simply have been dismissed.
In the Maryland case, Benisek v. Lamone, the Court affirmed a lower court’s decision (PDF) to deny a preliminary injunction, determining that its doing so “cannot be regarded as an abuse of discretion.”
The suit was brought by Republican voters who alleged their congressional district was gerrymandered in retaliation of their political views. The district court denied their motion for a preliminary injunction against using the map in the 2018 election and stayed further proceedings until the high Court ruled on Gill, which we now know provides little guidance.
The high Court reasoned that plaintiffs waited too long – six years – to bring their challenge, the chaotic effect it would have on the 2018 election was not In the public interest and legal uncertainty at the time were all valid reasons for denying a preliminary injunction.
The case thus returns to the district court, which may elect to lift its stay on further proceedings now that the Gill decision has been released.
No decision was released in the Texas racial gerrymandering case, which was argued before the Justices in April.
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