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Law School Case Brief

Rucho v. Common Cause - 139 S. Ct. 2484 (2019)

Rule:

Partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts. Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions. Judicial action must be governed by standard, by rule, and must be principled, rational, and based upon reasoned distinctions found in the Constitution or laws. Judicial review of partisan gerrymandering does not meet those basic requirements. 

Facts:

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 First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Elections Clause, and Article I, §2. The district courts in both cases ruled in favor of plaintiffs, and defendants appealed directly to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Issue:

Does a partisan gerrymandering claim present political question beyond the reach of the federal courts?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

Excessive partisanship in districting leads to results that reasonably seem unjust. But the fact that such gerrymandering is incompatible with democratic principles does not mean that the solution lies with the federal judiciary. Partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts. Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions. Judicial action must be governed by standard, by rule, and must be principled, rational, and based upon reasoned distinctions found in the Constitution or laws. Judicial review of partisan gerrymandering does not meet those basic requirements. 

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