Voting Rights and Democracy

Benisek v. Lamone

In Benisek v. Lamone, the Supreme Court considered whether Maryland’s partisan gerrymandering of its congressional districts violates the guarantees contained in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Case Summary

In 2011, the Maryland legislature drew the 6th congressional District to dilute the voting strength of Republican voters, seeking to flip the district from Republican to Democratic and thereby create a seventh seat in the Democratic congressional delegation.  To achieve this end, the mapmakers shuffled hundreds of thousands of citizens either out of or into the 6th District, using sophisticated political data to produce an additional Democratic seat. O. John Benisek, along with other Republican party affiliated voters, sued Maryland election officials, claiming that the mapmakers had gerrymandered the state’s 6th congressional District and subordinated Republican voters. The district court, by a 2-1 vote, refused to grant a preliminary injunction preventing use of the districting plan.  Benisek appealed to the Supreme Court, and the Court accepted his appeal for review.

CAC filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of bipartisan current and former members of Congress in support of Benisek. In our brief, we explained that the First Amendment does not permit the government to subordinate voters on account of their political affiliation. Our Constitution’s Framers created a system of self-governance in which freedom of speech and association were guaranteed to all, and recognized that the right to elect members of the government is crucial to this system. Partisan gerrymandering, whether the aim is to subordinate Democratic or Republican voters, is viewpoint discrimination that runs afoul of these First Amendment protections. Further, the brief explained that, in our constitutional system, the judicial branch is a constitutional check on government abuses of power. Thus, it is the Court’s responsibility to remedy this violation of voters’ First Amendment rights.

In a short per curiam opinion, the Court affirmed the district court’s refusal to grant a preliminary injunction preventing use of the districting plan.  The plaintiffs in that case remain free to seek a permanent injunction from the district court.

Case Timeline

  • January 29, 2018

    CAC files amicus brief

    U.S. Sup. Ct. Amicus Brief
  • March 28, 2018

    Supreme Court hears oral argument

  • June 18, 2018

    Supreme Court issues its decision

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