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Supreme Court to hear North Carolina gerrymandering case with ties to Duke research

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument of a North Carolina partisan gerrymandering case Tuesday.

On Jan. 4, the Supreme Court announced that Rucho v. Common Cause would be argued in March. Duke researchers have been heavily involved in the case, as their research has been used by those challenging the North Carolina congressional map to show that it is unconstitutional.

A three-judge panel for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina held in January 2018 that the Republican-controlled General Assembly fashioned an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander that violated non-Republican voters' rights of the First Amendment, Equal Protection Clause and Elections Clause.

However, because it was already deciding two partisan gerrymandering cases that term, the Supreme Court granted a stay request on a federal district court’s order in Common Cause v. Rucho to redraw the 2016 congressional district map by Jan. 24.

The two cases of Benisek v. Lamone and Gill v. Whitford were decided in June 2018, and map challengers in Rucho v. Common Cause addressed some of the concerns raised by the Supreme Court in August 2018, when the North Carolina case was heard again by a district court.

The three-judge panel ruled that the North Carolina congressional map was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander but now included an extensive section in its opinion on the congressional map's district-level harm to voters, an issue that the Supreme Court highlighted in Gill v. Whitford.

Now the question of whether the Supreme Court can hear partisan gerrymandering cases is once again in the air. In addition to Rucho v. Common Cause, the Supreme Court will also hear oral argument of Lamone v. Benisek on the same day. 

Since 2013, Duke’s Quantifying Gerrymandering group has been leading partisan gerrymandering research, and its work has been used in various partisan gerrymandering cases. Jonathan Mattingly, chair of the department of mathematics at Duke, has spearheaded the group since it began. Mattingly has also been the author of a report for Common Cause v. Rucho and testified for about three hours as an expert witness for the case decided in January 2018.

Mattingly and Fritz Mayer, professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy, lead a Bass Connections program called Gerrymandering and the Extent of Democracy in America.

In January 2019, Common Cause and Duke's Center for Political Leadership, Innovation and Service recently co-sponsored a conference at Duke on the state of redistricting in North Carolina.

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