February 12, 2020

Case Study - Rucho v. Common Cause

In 2016, North Carolina was ordered by a federal court to redraw its congressional districts because the existing map included districts that were racially gerrymandered. Racial gerrymandering is a practice of spreading minorities across voting districts, leaving them too few in number in any given district to elect their preferred candidates and the Supreme Court has ruled that this is unconstitutional.  When the General Assembly in North Carolina went to redraw the districting map it used an explicitly political criterion, along with traditional and race-neutral criteria, to ensure that 10 of its congressional districts remained “Republican,” while just 3 remained “Democratic.” 

Voting-rights organizations and individual voters sued North Carolina, arguing that the state’s map was an impermissible political gerrymander. The three-judge panel at the district court ruled that the plaintiffs had standing to sue, the case was justiciable, and the plaintiffs prevailed on the merits.The state’s Republican legislators appealed to the Supreme Court.

Classroom Case Study

This classroom case study provides:

  • background on the legal issues in the case;
  • facts of the case;
  • key legal definitions;
  • argument summaries for the appellants and the appellees; and
  • focus questions for fostering classroom discussion

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The classroom case study was modified from PREVIEW of United States Supreme Court Cases. It can be used for teacher reference and provides a more detailed look at the case.

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Download Oral Argument Transcript Handout>>

One-Person, One-Vote

Excerpt  - Justice Ginsburg and Mr. Clement, attorney for appellants, Robert Rucho et al. 
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Focus Questions:

  1. What questions do you have after hearing this clips from oral argument? Does it make you think differently about the case?
  2. According to Mr. Clement, what constitutional protections exist with regards to voting? What is not protected?
  3. Do you think that partisan gerrymandering goes against the principle of one-person, one-vote by possibly reducing the impact of someone’s vote based on their party affiliation? Why or why not?

Proportional Representation

Excerpt - Justice Sotomayor and Mr. Clement, attorney for appellants, Robert Rucho et al. 
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Focus Questions:

  1. Justice Sotomayor mentions that it is a violation of equal protection to treat political parties differently, or to favor one party over another and that limiting political speech is similar. How does partisan gerrymandering limit political speech?
  2. Both Justice Sotomayor and Mr. Clement talk about fairness. What do you think a “fair” election would look like?

Role of the Courts

Excerpt - Justice Gorsuch and Mr. Clement, attorney for appellants, Robert Rucho et al.
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Excerpt - Justice Kavanaugh, Justice Gorsuch, and Ms .Riggs, attorney for appellees, League of Women Voters
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Focus Questions:

  1. What are some of the additional options for addressing issues of partisan gerrymandering, outside of the Supreme Court, that are mentioned in these two clips?
  2. What challenges might arise in addressing this issue through a congressional mandate or legislation?
  3. Why do you think the justices might be hesitant for the Court to get involved in partisan gerrymandering cases?
  4. What reason does Ms. Riggs provide for why the Court should get involved?