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Common Cause v. Rucho

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

September 8, 2017

COMMON CAUSE, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
ROBERT A. RUCHO, in his official capacity as Chairman of the North Carolina Senate Redistricting Committee for the 2016 Extra Session and Co-Chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting, et al., Defendants. LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF RTH CAROLINA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ROBERT A. RUCHO, in his official capacity as Chairman of the North Carolina Senate Redistricting Committee for the 2016 Extra Session and Co-Chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting, et al., Defendants.

          Wynn, Jr., Circuit Judge, wrote the opinion, in which Britt, Senior District Judge, joined:

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WYNN, JR., CIRCUIT JUDGE

         In these consolidated cases, two groups of Plaintiffs[1] allege that North Carolina's 2016 Congressional Redistricting Plan (the “Plan”) constitutes an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander in violation of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and, in the case of the Common Cause Plaintiffs, Article I, sections 2 and 4 of the Constitution. Before the Court is Legislative Defendants'[2] motion to stay Plaintiffs' action pending the Supreme Court of the United States' final decision in Gill v. Whitford, No. 16-1161 (calendared for oral argument on Oct. 3, 2017). The trial court in Whitford held that a Wisconsin state legislative redistricting plan was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander in violation of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause. Whitford v. Gill, 218 F.Supp.3d 837, 884 (W.D. Wis. 2016).

         After careful consideration of the parties' briefing and arguments, we conclude that Legislative Defendants have failed to put forward the “clear and convincing circumstances outweighing potential harm” to Plaintiffs necessary to justify staying these proceedings. Williford v. Armstrong World Indus., Inc., 715 F.2d 124, 127 (4th Cir. 1983). Therefore, and as further explained below, we exercise our discretion to deny Legislative Defendants' motion to stay.

         I.

         On February 5, 2016, a panel of three federal judges held that two districts established by North Carolina's 2011 decennial congressional redistricting plan constituted racial gerrymanders in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Harris v. McCrory, 159 F.Supp.3d 600, 604 (M.D. N.C. 2016), aff'd sub nom. Cooper v. Harris, 137 S.Ct. 1455 (2017). To remedy this constitutional violation, the Harris Court established a two-week deadline for the North Carolina General Assembly to draw new congressional districts to be used in future elections. Id. at 627. Thereafter, the General Assembly adopted the Plan at issue in this case. According to Plaintiffs, the Plan relied on “political data”-data “reflect[ing] whether the people . . . had voted in favor of Democratic or Republican candidates for certain state-wide elections”-to draw districts intended to maximize the number of Republican members of North Carolina's congressional delegation. (Doc. 12, ¶ 18.)

         Common Cause Plaintiffs filed their complaint challenging the new districts as partisan gerrymanders on August 5, 2016, and League Plaintiffs filed their action on September 22, 2016. Collectively, Plaintiffs allege that the Plan violates four constitutional provisions:

1. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, by diluting the electoral strength of individuals who voted against Republican candidates (Doc. 41, ¶¶ 69-80; Doc. 12, ¶¶ 39-45);

2. The First Amendment, by burdening and retaliating against individuals who voted against Republican candidates on the basis of their political beliefs and association (Doc. 41, ¶¶ 81-83; Doc. 12, ¶¶ 25-38);

3. Article I, section 2, which provides that members of the House of Representatives will be chosen “by the People of the several States, ” by usurping the right of the voters to select their preferred candidates for Congress (Doc. 12, ¶¶ 46-49); and

4. Article I, section 4, which provides that “the times, places and manner of holding elections of . . . Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof” (Doc. 12, ¶¶ 50-54).

         On February 21, 2017, Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' actions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. Nos. 45, 46.) In an order and accompanying memorandum opinion issued on March 3, 2017, this Court denied Defendants' motion to dismiss. Common Cause v. Rucho, -- F.Supp.3d --, 2017 WL 876307, at *1 (M.D. N.C. Mar. 3, 2017).

         This Court established an April 28, 2017, deadline for the parties to complete discovery and scheduled a bench trial for the week of June 26, 2017. (Doc. Nos. 47, 53.) Pursuant to that order, the parties engaged in extensive fact and expert discovery, which involved the production of documents, the propounding and answering of interrogatories, the preparation and submission of a number of expert reports, and numerous depositions. On May 30, 2017, the parties filed their final pretrial disclosures. (Doc. Nos. 54-58.) One week later, the parties submitted their proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law and pretrial briefs. (Doc. Nos. 60-62, 64.) On June 19, 2017, League Plaintiffs moved in limine to exclude the testimony of one of Defendants' proffered expert witnesses and submitted substantial briefing and supporting materials in support of that motion. (Doc. Nos. 71, 72.) That same day, this Court held a pre-trial hearing. At the hearing, this Court, on its own motion, continued the trial indefinitely.

         On June 26, 2017, Legislative Defendants filed the present motion to stay further proceedings pending the Supreme Court's final decision in Gill. (Docs. 74, 75.) Plaintiffs opposed Legislative Defendants' motion, and Board Defendants and Defendant State of North Carolina took no position. (Docs. 78, 79.) On August 29, 2017, having lifted the continuance, this Court received argument from the parties on Legislative Defendants' stay motion. That same day, this Court entered an order denying the stay motion and stating that this opinion would follow. (Doc. 85.)

         II.

         “[T]he power to stay proceedings is incidental to the power inherent in every court to control the disposition of the causes on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel, and for litigants.” Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936); see also Maryland v. Universal Elections, Inc., 729 F.3d 370, 375 (4th Cir. 2013) (explaining that district courts have broad discretion “to balance the various factors relevant to the expeditious and comprehensive disposition of the causes of action on the court's docket” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Factors courts consider in deciding whether to exercise their discretion to stay proceedings “include the interests of judicial economy, the hardship and inequity to the moving party in the absence of a stay, and the potential prejudice to the non-moving party in the event of a stay.” Yadkin Riverkeeper, Inc. v. Duke Energy ...


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