What are all these NC redistricting cases?

There are a bunch of North Carolina redistricting cases stacked up at the moment.  A few of these are in front of the Supreme Court, and could move as early as Tuesday.  Since we just had a North Carolina redistricting case decided by the Supreme Court earlier this week, that can get confusing.  So here’s just a brief explainer on what’s what.  Because I know what you want for your Memorial Day weekend.

  • Cooper v. Harris – racial challenge to cong. districts, decided by SCOTUS 5/22
  • Harris v. Cooper – partisan gerrymandering challenge to the remedy, at SCOTUS 5/25
  • Common Cause v. Rucho – partisan gerrymandering challenge to cong. districts, in fed. trial court
  • LWV of NC v. Rucho – partisan gerrymandering challenge to cong. districts, in fed. trial court
  • North Carolina v. Covington – racial challenge to state leg. districts, at SCOTUS 5/25
  • North Carolina v. Covington – a related appeal focused on the remedy below, at SCOTUS 5/25
  • Dickson v. Rucho – racial challenge to state leg. and cong. districts, at SCOTUS 5/25

More detail below the fold.

[Update: between the time that I started writing and the time that I stopped, SCOTUS issued a request for more briefing (due June 6) on the procedural issues in Harris v. Cooper.  I’d expect all of the SCOTUS cases to be relisted for the next conference after June 6.]

On Monday, the Supreme Court decided Cooper v. Harris.  This affirmed a three-judge federal trial court’s decision in Feb. 2016 that North Carolina had unlawfully drawn congressional districts with a predominant and unjustified use of race.

After that Feb. 2016 trial court decision, the legislature came back and in 2016 drew new congressional districts, explicitly stating that they were seeking partisan advantage.  The plaintiffs in the Cooper v. Harris case said that these remedial districts were improper because they were drawn with undue partisanship.  The trial court disagreed, and the plaintiffs took a direct appeal to the Supreme Court.  That case is called Harris v. Cooper (#16-166).  (The order in SCOTUS cases is based on who won and who lost below.)  There are two different issues: whether it’s procedurally proper to decide the question of undue partisanship when examining the remedy to the racial case (or whether a new case has to be filed instead), and if so, whether the districts are substantively unlawful based on partisan intent.  The case was distributed for the Supreme Court conference yesterday.

(One procedural note: The cases here coming out of federal court are up on direct appeal to SCOTUS from a three-judge trial court, rather than the “normal” cert process.  SCOTUS is evaluating whether it has jurisdiction to hear the cases, and if so, whether it will summarily decide them or whether it will set the cases for full argument and a longer decision.)

There are also two other new cases challenging the new 2016 remedial districts as partisan gerrymanders.  Those cases are Common Cause v. Rucho and League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho. They’re consolidated before a different three-judge trial court than the court hearing Harris v. Cooper.  And in March of this year, that court denied a motion to dismiss.  Those cases are now heading towards trial.

There’s a separate set of challenges to the state legislative districts in North Carolina, also on racial gerrymandering grounds.  It’s called North Carolina v. Covington (#16-649).  In 2016, a three-judge federal trial court agreed with these plaintiffs that the state legislative districts were drawn unconstitutionally on the basis of race, and North Carolina appealed.  Additionally, the trial court in this case ordered new districts to be drawn for a 2017 special election; North Carolina also appealed (#16-1023) that remedial decision, which the Supreme Court stayed in January.  Both appeals (with the same name, but different case numbers) were distributed for yesterday’s SCOTUS conference.

There’s still another set of challenges, to both the congressional districts and the state legislative districts on racial grounds, coming out of state court.  It’s called Dickson v. Rucho (#16-24).  In 2014, the North Carolina Supreme Court rejected a challenge brought by a different group of plaintiffs, along similar lines to the challenge that succeeded in federal court.  In early 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back for a second look, in light of its Alabama redistricting decision.  In late 2015, the North Carolina Supreme Court took that second look, and reaffirmed its decision.  Plaintiffs sought cert, and that petition is back in front of the Supreme Court right now, also distributed for yesterday’s conference.

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