The League of Women Voters of North Carolina is the lead plaintiff in a partisan gerrymandering case (LWVNC v. Rucho) that charges the NCGA's drawing of district maps violated the 1st and 14th amendments of the constitution. The case was filed September 2016 and was scheduled to be tried in Federal Court in the North Carolina's Middle District in Greensboro on June 26.
On June 19, however, one week before the League case was to be heard, the US Supreme Court announced its agreement to hear a similar case, Gill v. Whitford, in which Wisconsin voters charge that the Wisconsin legislature illegally drew district voting maps to favor a political party. This announcement was followed by an indefinite postponement of the LWVNC v. Rucho case. A new date has not been set. So until then, everyone in the League of Women Voters of North Carolina--and likely every state with pending gerrymandering litigation--is anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court ruling.
The Wisconsin case and the League's case are strikingly similar. This article attempts to summarize the cases and point out key elements to watch out for when the case is ultimately heard.
Wisconsin's Gill v. Whitford, originally filed in July 2015, is significant because up to now partisan gerrymandering, that is the drawing of voting maps to favor a particular party, has been legal. The Wisconsin case is the first partisan gerrymandering case since 1986 Davis v. Bandemer, when the Supreme Court declared partisan gerrymandering to be justiciable, but overruled the Federal district courts judgment that the Indiana legislative redistricting plan was unconstitutional. In a 2004 landmark case, Vieth v Jubelirer, justices ruled that courts could hear cases about gerrymandered redistricting maps. However, until the courts possessed a "discernable and manageable standard" by which to assess whether a map was illegally politically gerrymandered, the issue would be considered a non-justiciable The Wisconsin case attempts to make partisan gerrymandering cases justiciable and does so by offering "discernable and manageable standards", or metrics.
The Wisconsin case, as well as the LWVNC v Rucho, introduces a metric referred to as an "efficiency gap". According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the efficiency gap is a standard for measuring partisan gerrymandering. Developed in a 2015 paper by University of Chicago law school professor, Nicholas Stephanopoulos, and Eric McGhee, research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, the efficiency gap is at the core of the Wisconsin case and counts the number of votes each party wastes in an election to determine whether either party enjoyed a systematic advantage in turning votes into seats. Efficiency gap is the difference between parties' respective wasted votes in an election, divided by the total number of votes cast.
In Whitford v. Gill, it is argued, "When the efficiency gap is relatively small and roughly equivalent to the efficiency gaps that have traditionally existed, the map should not be deemed unconstitutional.... But where the gap is large and much greater than the historical norm, there should be a presumption of unconstitutionality.... an intent to systematically disadvantage voters based on their political beliefs... When partisan gerrymandering is extreme the process is broken. Current legislators have no incentive to alter it and adherents of the disadvantaged party are unable to do so because their votes have been unfairly diluted.
The efficiency gap alone is not proof positive of unconstitutional gerrymandering. The Wisconsin case, as well as LWVNC v. Rucho, which has been combined with Common Cause v Rucho, both include efficiency gap metrics in their arguments. But it also proposes a three prong "partisan symmetry test for partisan gerrymandering." The first prong, discriminatory intent, is whether a district plan was enacted with the purpose of benefiting one party or disadvantaging another. The second test's prong is discrimInatory effect, whether the plan exhibits a level of partisan asymmetry that is high and durable relative to historic norms. The third prong is justification, whether the state can justify the plan's asymmetry based on the states political geography or legitimate redistricting objectives."
The remedy sought by the LWVNC mirrors the requested remedy of Gill v. Whitford, and that is to "seek the enactment of a balanced map that does not give either side an unfair partisan advantage". Whether the SCOTUS will agree with Wisconsin voters and be convinced by the efficiency gap metricis anyone's guess.
Regardless of outcome, the SCOTUS decision may impact North Carolina's congressional districts. It may influence how the lower courts proceed with current gerrymandering cases on the docket including LWVNC v Rucho, which had been consolidated with another similar case, Common Cause v. Rucho. If the high court rules against partisan gerrymandering and in a manner favorable to our cause, there is still much work to be done. A fellow League member and former attorney, Aylett Colston, commented in her recent blog,"Even if every court case goes our way, it will still be up to the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) to interpret and apply the Supreme Court decisions. Under current law, even if the NCGA has to re-draw the maps, they can draw them more or less however they want, so long as the maps comply with the minimal standard set by the U.S. Constitution. They are not required to be impartial or evenhanded."
Until the Supreme Court convenes again in the Fall, he position of the League of Women Voters of the United States and of LWVNC remains: We will continue to advocate redistricting processes and enforceable standards that promote fair and effective representation at all levels of government with maximum opportunity for public participation. The LWVUS advocates the establishment of an independent special commission with membership that reflects the diversity of the unit of government, including citizens at large, representatives of public interest groups, and members of minority groups.
In other words, let's keep focused and fighting the good fight!
You can access a comprehensive article about what impact a US Supreme Court decision can have on our state here: http://wcqs.org/post/scotus-partisan-gerrymander-decision-will-impact-north-carolina
The Redistricting Action Team is focused on creating a positive ACTION plan. If you are interested in joining the group contact Barbara Bleisweis at firstname.lastname@example.org
Advocacy and action are the results of formal LWV positions that result from a process of study. Any given study, whether it be National, State, or Local, is thorough in its pursuit of facts and details. As the study progresses, a continuing discussion of pros and cons of each situation occurs. Prior to the results of the study being presented to the general membership, study committee members fashion consensus questions that are then addressed by the membership.
Additional discussion, pro and con, takes place as members (not part of the study committee) learn the scope of the study. After the members reach consensus, the board forms positions based on that consensus.
It is the consensus statement--the statement resulting from the consensus questions--that becomes a position. Firm action or advocacy can then be taken on the particular issue addressed by the position. Without a position, action/advocacy cannot be taken.
To get involved with advocacy, please contact the director of advocacy.
Chair, Barbara Bleisweis reports the group outlined a starting point for the group:
1. Develop branding strategy and slogan upon which to base the Committee messaging.
2. Frequent and consistent messaging to the NC General Assembly House and Senate representatives.
3. A plan to attract millenials to the team.
4. Identify key issues that span party lines and humanize the concept of gerrymandering.
5. Research the economic cost of gerrymandering for NC citizens.
If you are interested in joining the Team contact Barbara at email@example.com
For more information about related issues or to get involved, please contact the director of membership.
We have been working collaboratively with the NC Justice Center and the NC Community Health Center Association on a state-wide campaign to educate local communities and state legislators about the potential benefits of Medicaid expansion in North Carolina, such as: 43,000 new jobs, increased business activity, and health care coverage for over 300,000 NC residents. The League is a participant in the Close the Gap campaign and has given presentations to community groups; sent letters, postcards, and emails to our state legislators; telephoned and written the Governor; and helped plan and implement rallies to advocate for expanding Medicaid in our state.
Two factors may work in our favor in the upcoming months. First, the 2016 election and changing demographics may make incumbents and new candidates more open to expanding Medicaid. Second, next steps for the recently passed Medicaid Transformation and Reorganization bill (HR 372) will include drafting the reform specifics and we can advocate for expanding Medicaid as part of the reform. For more information or to get involved with access to health care, please contact the director of access to health care.