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Rucho v. Common Cause

Citation. 139 S. Ct. 2484 (2019)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The plaintiffs in North Carolina and Maryland challenged their States’ congressional districting maps as unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Article III limits federal courts to to deciding cases and controversies.

It is “the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”


The plaintiffs and North Carolina and Maryland alleged that their States’ districting plan discriminates against Democrats and Republics in each respective State and that the gerrymandering violates the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause and the Election Clause. In North Carolina, the Republican legislators instructed their mapmakers to draw a map that would produce a congressional delegation of more Republicans than Democrats. The Democrat legislators in Maryland did the opposite. The Supreme Court has not struck down a districting plan as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.


Can federal courts resolve claims of excessive partisanship?


No. The Framers enacted the Elections Clause, which empowered state legislatures to prescribe “Times, Places and Manner of Holding Elections” and gave Congress the power to make or alter any such regulations. Congress has regularly exercised its power to address partisan gerrymandering.  Although excessive partisanship in districting maps reasonably seems unjust, partisan gerrymandering is a political question and beyond the reach of federal courts. It is not the duty of federal courts to allocate the ideal number of seats for each party and determine how much deviation from that balance is too much. Moreover, none of the appellees‘ proposed “tests” for evaluating partisan gerrymandering claims meets the need for a precise standard that is judicially manageable.


Justice Kagan, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor

The partisan gerrymanders deprived citizens of their constitutional rights: the rights to participate in the political process. The majority left the question of constitutional harms, which could go amiss forever if not resolved by the court, and we must fill in the gaps.


The Constitution does not require proportional representation or that legislatures must draw district lines to come as near as possible to allocating sets to each party to what its anticipated statewide vote will be. Also, there is no legal standard and it is difficult to settle on a clear, politically neutral test for fairness in any winner-take-all system.

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