Benisek v. Lamone

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Benisek v. Lamone
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued March 28, 2018
Decided June 18, 2018
Full case nameO. John Benisek, et al. v. Linda H. Lamone, Administrator, Maryland State Board of Elections, et al.
Docket no.17-333
Citations585 U.S. ____ (more)
138 S. Ct. 1942; 201 L. Ed. 2d 398
Case history
PriorMotion to dismiss granted, Benisek v. Mack, 11 F. Supp. 3d 516 (D. Md. 2014); affirmed, 584 F. App'x 140 (4th Cir. 2014); cert. granted, 135 S. Ct. 2805 (2015); remanded to 3-judge panel, Shapiro v. McManus, No. 14-990, 577 U.S. ___ (2015); on remand, Benisek v. Lamone, 241 F. Supp. 3d 566 (D. Md. 2017); injunction denied, 266 F. Supp. 3d 799 (D. Md. 2017).
The Appeals Court denial to issue injunction on the use of Maryland's 2011 redistricting maps was not an abuse of discretion.
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
Anthony Kennedy · Clarence Thomas
Ruth Bader Ginsburg · Stephen Breyer
Samuel Alito · Sonia Sotomayor
Elena Kagan · Neil Gorsuch
Case opinion
Per curiam
Lamone v. Benisek
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued March 26, 2019
Decided June 27, 2019
Full case nameLinda H. Lamone, Administrator, Maryland State Board of Elections, et al. v. O. John Benisek, et al.
Docket no.18-726
Citations588 U.S. ____ (more)
Partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
Clarence Thomas · Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen Breyer · Samuel Alito
Sonia Sotomayor · Elena Kagan
Neil Gorsuch · Brett Kavanaugh
Case opinions
MajorityRoberts, joined by Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh
DissentKagan, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor

Benisek v. Lamone, 585 U.S. ____ (2018), and Lamone v. Benisek, 588 U.S. ____ (2019) were cases before the Supreme Court of the United States dealing with the topic of partisan gerrymandering arising from the 2011 Democratic party-favored redistricting of Maryland. At the center of the cases was Maryland's 6th district which historically favored Republicans and which was redrawn in 2011 to swing the political majority to Democratic via vote dilution. Affected voters filed suit, stating that the redistricting violated their right of representation under Article One, Section Two of the U.S. Constitution and freedom of association of the First Amendment.

Benisek v. Lamone, a case challenging the denial of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland to place an injunction on the controversial redistricting maps for upcoming elections, was heard during the 2017–2018 term following the Court's decision from Gill v. Whitford. The Court, in a per curiam decision, affirmed the District Court's decision, and remanded the case for further hearings to take Gill into consideration. The District Court later ruled the maps to be an unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering and ordered new maps to be draw. The state challenged this in Lamone v. Benisek, which the Supreme Court heard in the 2018–2019 term alongside Rucho v. Common Cause, a partisan redistricting case from North Carolina. The Supreme Court ruled in both Lamone and Rucho by a 5-4 majority that questions of partisan gerrymandering represents a nonjusticiable political question and remanded the case back to the district court with instructions to dismiss the case.


In the United States, the number of Representatives within the House of Representatives that serve a state is based on the results of the United States Census, run every ten years. This leads to redistricting, changes in the boundaries of the state's district. Redistricting is typically done by representatives of the political party in power within the state, and can result in the practice of gerrymandering, creating oddly-shaped districts that help to favor the party's chances for election due to the population distribution within them. The Supreme Court has ruled that gerrymandering based on racial and ethnic grounds is unconstitutional, and had stated that partisan gerrymandering is also likely unconstitutional, but has yet to develop a valid means to determine when partisan gerrymandering has occurred.[1]

Maryland redistricting[edit]

The district map of Maryland from 2003 to 2013
The district map of Maryland as of 2013

For the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau recommended states to count incarcerated prisoners to be living in the location of their group quarters, rather than at their home location. Within Maryland, most prisoners are African-American, and the largest prisoner populations were located in the state's 4th and 6th districts, which are otherwise predominately populated by Caucasians. Because prisoners do not have the right to vote but would be counted as residents of those districts, this created concerns that "prison-based gerrymandering," where those districts would be overrepresented in elections, and districts containing the metropolitan areas like Baltimore where most of these prisoners originated would be underrepresented. Maryland passed the first-of-its-kind civil act, the "No Representation Without Population Act", which would have prisoners counted in the Census within their home district instead.[2]

Maryland has traditionally been a Democratic-heavy state, and according to FiveThirtyEight, non-gerrymandered or proportionally partisan districts in Maryland could range from four to six likely Democrat seats,[3] suggesting that a proper redistricting of the state's eight districts would end up with four to six districts favoring Democrats, and two to four either favoring Republicans or remaining competitive. Democratic analysts envisioned the possibility of an "8-0 map" which aspired to shut Republicans out of elections altogether; however, this may have endangered some incumbents, who rejected the proposal because they wanted to stay in office more easily.[4] However, Democratic leaders suggested the potential to create a district map that give Democrats seven districts to the Republican's one, the "7-1 map". The state Democrats drew on services from National Committee for an Effective Congress (NCEC) to determine how to create this "7-1 map".[5] This primarily came down to how to redistrict the current two Republican-leaning districts, the 1st and the 6th, with mapmakers settling on the 6th since redistricting the 1st would require them to draw district lines across Chesapeake Bay.[5] Ultimately, a 7-1 map favoring Democrats was implemented.[3][4]

Benisek v. Lamone[edit]

First legal challenge[edit]

The new redistricting was initially challenged in Fletcher v. Lamone, raised by a number of African-American voters who believed that the new map diluted the strength of the African-American vote, violating the equal representation under Article One of the United States Constitution, equal protection from the 14th Amendment and equal voting rights from the 15th Amendment. They further challenged the "No Representation Without Population Act", believing this further constituted a dilution of their vote. The case was heard by a three-judge panel at the District Court of Maryland in December 2011, and in a unanimous decision, the District Court found in favor of the state, issuing a summary judgement that asserted the plaintiffs has not shown harm by the new district map nor from the Act.[6] On appeal to the Supreme Court, the Court issues a summary disposition that upheld the District Court's ruling.[7][8]

Second legal challenge[edit]

However a separate challenge arose from other residents of the state in 2013. Aware the District Court of Maryland had ruled the redistricting map was not considered partisan from Fletcher v. Lamone, these citizens challenged the redistricting's use of "narrow ribbons and orifices" that were used to connect non-contiguous regions with non-consistent population distribution that occurred in the state's 4th, 6th, 7th, and 8th districts.[9] Of particular concern was the 6th district. Previously it covered most of the rural northwestern part of the state along the Pennsylvanian border, and was a predominately Republican district with a high Caucasian population that supported Representative Roscoe Bartlett for two decades. After redistricting, the 6th still covered the western arm of the state, but now include many of the suburban and metropolitan areas across the border from Washington D.C., increasing the population of African-American voters within it; the number of registered Republicans dropped by 70,000 voters, roughly 20% of the registered voters in the district. As a result, Bartlett lost his seat to Democrat John Delancy in the 2012 elections by more than 20% of the vote.[5] The complaint stated that because these districts that were predominately Republican had been remapped to swing predominately Democratic, the redistricting map violated their rights of equal representation, the right to vote under the 14th Amendment, and the rights of association under the 1st Amendment.[9]

The case, filed as Benisek v. Mack, was reviewed by Judge James K. Bredar, who deemed that none of the complaints brought by the plaintiffs were not actionable and denied the request for a standard three-judge hearing in April 2014. Judge Bredar did find that the case represented a substantially different subset of residents of Fletcher and rejected the defense's argument for res judicata. In regards to the plaintiffs' arguments, Judge Bredar found that the plaintiffs did not provide an effective measure to demonstrate partisan gerrymandering as suggested by Vieth v. Jubelirer, nullifying their Article One and 14th Amendment claims, and that the citizens affected still had their rights to participate in the political process, denying any relief for the 1st Amendment claim.[10] The plaintiffs appealed to the Fourth Circuit Appeals Court, but the appeal was summarily denied in October 2014 on the basis that there claims were insubstantial as determined by Bredar.[11] The plaintiffs issued a petition for writ of certiorari from the Supreme Court of the United States, arguing that because the Districts Courts are required to hear any substantial constitutional challenges to state redistricting under Section 2284 of Title 28, the Appeals Court dismissal on the insubstantial claim was inappropriate.[12] The case, Shapiro v. McManus, was accepted by the Supreme Court in June 2015, with oral arguments in November 2015 and the decision issued in December 2015.[13] The unanimous Court agreed with the petitioners, in that the claims presented related to the constitutionality of the redistricting were not insubstantial and cleared the bar set in Goosby v. Osser, and ordered a full three-judge hearing at the District Court for the case, but otherwise did not comment on the merits of the petitioners complaints related to the redistricting.[14][15]

Second hearing[edit]

The new hearing before Circuit Judge Paul V. Niemeyer, Chief District Judge Bredar, and District Judge George Levi Russell III began in 2016. The plaintiffs had revised their case to focus specifically on the redistricting of the 6th district, which had the widest swing in voter demographics. While the state attempted to dismiss the case, the Court denied their dismissal in a 2-1 decision (with Bredar dissenting) in August 2016, allowing the case to move into the discovery phase.[16] Both sides sought to expedite the case through summary judgments in mid-2017. However, on June 2017, the Supreme Court announced that they would be hearing the Gill v. Whitford case later that year. The plaintiffs in Benisek requested the District Court to issue an injunction from the state of Maryland from using the 2011 redistricting maps in anticipation of the upcoming 2018 elections, as the state of Maryland was seeking a stay of proceedings for the case until Gill v. Whitford was concluded.[17] The District Court denied the plaintiffs' request, and issued a stay on the case in August 2017, pending the conclusion of Gill v. Whitford.[18]

Supreme Court[edit]

Seeking an expedited ruling, the plaintiffs filed a request for a jurisdictional statement to the Supreme Court on September 1, 2017 to reverse the District Court's denial of summary judgement and injunctions and placing the case on hold.[19] While the Supreme Court denied to reverse the District Court's orders, the Court did agree to hear the case on its merits on December 8, 2017.[20]

Oral arguments were heard on March 28, 2018. In contrast to Gill v. Whitford, the Justices seemed to indicate that the Maryland redistricting of the 6th district was a much more aggressive partisan gerrymandering than with Wisconsin, but still debated if they had a proper measure to judge how much of a partisan division it was, whether the Court should be involved in that decision, or whether this is something to be regulated through federal or state legislation.[21]

The Court issued its per curiam decision affirming the Appeals' Court decision on June 18, 2018, the same day as the Gill decision was announced. In the decision, the Court did not touch on the merits of the gerrymandering case, but instead found that the Appeals Court, in denying to issue an injunction on the use of the redistricting maps, was not an "abuse of discretion", given both the pending legal challenge of Gill, and the need for "due regard for the public interest in orderly elections".[22] The decision further argued that the plaintiffs had waited too long from the certification of the redistricting maps.[23]

Lamone v. Benisek[edit]

Following the per curiam decision and the conclusion of Gill v. Whitford, the District Court rescheduled hearings on the case on October 4, 2018. The District Court subsequently ruled on November 7, 2018, finding for summary judgement in the plaintiff's favor that the redistricting of the 6th District was unconstitutional, and required the state to redraw the state's redistricting maps in a more neutral manner by March 7, 2019 to be approved by the Court, or otherwise the Court would assign an independent three-member commission to oversee the new maps, such that new maps would be available prior to the 2020 election.[24] State governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, had stated his intent to let the ruling stand and engage with the state's general assembly to start redistricting, but the attorney general Brian Frosh, a Democrat, stated his intention to appeal the District court ruling, potentially directly to the United States Supreme Court. Frosh also sought a stay of the District Court's redistricting order while the matter of appeal was under discussion.[25]

Supreme Court[edit]

Frosh petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the new challenge of whether the District Court could make its summary judgement, which the Court granted in early January 2019; this new case was heard as Lamone v. Benisek (Docket 18-726)[26] alongside Rucho v. Common Cause, another partisan gerrymandering case from North Carolina.[27] The case was decided on June 27, 2019, where a 5-4 majority determined that claims of partisan gerrymandering present a nonjusticiable political question that could not be handled by the federal court system. Along with Rucho, the Supreme Court vacated the District Court's judgement and remanded the case to that Court, effectively leaving in place the existing redistricting maps.


  1. ^ Reporter, Ariane de Vogue, CNN Supreme Court. "Supreme Court tackles racial gerrymander cases". CNN. Retrieved 2016-12-30.
  2. ^ Morello, Carol (April 15, 2010). "Maryland changes how prisoners are counted in census". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  3. ^ a b . FiveThirtyEight Retrieved June 20, 2018. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ a b Dave Daley (June 25, 2017). "How Democrats Gerrymandered Their Way to Victory in Maryland". The Atlantic. Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c Daley, Dave (June 25, 2017). "How Democrats Gerrymandered Their Way to Victory in Maryland". The Atlantic. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  6. ^ RWT-11cv3220
  7. ^ 11-1178. 133 S.Ct. 29 (2012)
  8. ^ Wagner, Peter (July 13, 2012). "Beginning of the end for 'prison-based gerrymandering'". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  9. ^ a b [1]
  10. ^ [2]
  11. ^ [3]
  12. ^ [4]
  13. ^ Barnes, Robert (November 1, 2015). "D.C. law student takes case against Md. gerrymandering to Supreme Court". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 29, 2018.
  14. ^ [5]
  15. ^ Barnes, Robert (December 8, 2015). "Supreme Court says challenge of Maryland district lines may proceed". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 29, 2018.
  16. ^ [6]
  17. ^ Hicks, Josh (July 13, 2017). "Md. redistricting case could stall while Supreme Court hears Wisconsin case". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 29, 2018.
  18. ^ [7]
  19. ^ [8]
  20. ^ Barnes, Robert (December 8, 2017). "Supreme Court will take up a second gerrymandering case this term". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 29, 2018.
  21. ^ Barnes, Robert (March 28, 2018). "Even on second look, Supreme Court seems stumped on gerrymandering issue". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 29, 2018.
  22. ^ de Vogue, Ariane (June 18, 2018). "Supreme Court sidesteps partisan gerrymandering cases, let maps stand for now". CNN. Retrieved June 18, 2018.
  23. ^ Liptak, Adam (June 18, 2018). "Supreme Court Sidesteps Decision on Partisan Gerrymandering". The New York Times. Retrieved June 18, 2018.
  24. ^ Barker, Jeff (November 7, 2018). "Federal judges say Maryland's 6th congressional district is unconstitutional; map must be redrawn for 2020". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  25. ^ Dresser (November 15, 2018). "Michael". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  26. ^ Liptak, Adam (January 4, 2019). "Supreme Court Takes Up New Cases on Partisan Gerrymandering". The New York Times. Retrieved January 4, 2019.
  27. ^ Barnes, Robert (March 26, 2019). "Brett Kavanaugh the new player as Supreme Court returns to partisan gerrymandering". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 26, 2019.

External links[edit]