Students, alumni take shared passion regarding partisan gerrymandering beyond the classroom

Photo of Morgan Mayes (JD '18) posing on the U.S. Supreme Court steps.

Seth Williford (JD '18) (from left), Chris Salemme (JD '17) and Morgan Mayes (JD '18)

Wake Forest School of Law’s Seth Williford (JD ’18), Morgan Mayes (JD ’18) and Chris Salemme (JD ’17), who is serving as a fellow in the Veterans Clinic, took their shared passion for learning beyond the classroom this week to the United States Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in the partisan gerrymandering case, Gill v. Whitford.

In the Spring 2017 semester, the trio enrolled in Election Law: Gerrymanders and Related Topics, taught by Professor Michael Curtis and North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Robert Hunter. The course explored the constitutional, racial and partisanship issues surrounding legislative redistricting, and the lack of a judicially manageable standard to measure the effects of political gerrymanders.

When Salemme, Mayes and Williford learned this summer that the high court would hear the partisan gerrymandering case from the Western District of Wisconsin on Oct. 3, and potentially eliminate partisan gerrymanders in the United States, they knew this was something they did not want to miss.

For Williford, who is the law school’s SBA president, “Attending Gill was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to see the law of redistricting in action. Either result has far reaching implications for the decennial exercise of redistricting and how politicians draw our districts,” he explained.

At 4:30 a.m. on Oct. 3, the trio lined up in front of the Supreme Court building to discover there were nearly 100 people in front of them. “I wasn’t expecting as big of a turnout as there was,” Mayes said. “I knew this was a publicized topic, but I did not think hundreds of people would show up to attend the arguments and demonstrate outside.”

Undeterred by the growing crowd, the trio from Wake Forest law school remained in line until 10 a.m. when they learned that public seating was at capacity. The three were, however, able to hear the arguments for a short period of time in person as part of a rotating group in the courtroom.

“As gerrymandering continues to be a persistent problem in our electoral system, attending Gill v. Whitford was an incredible opportunity to see first-hand how many in society are yearning for change,” Mayes continued. “Being inside the courtroom, even for a short time, is a moment that I will always remember.”

Willford added, “It was a fascinating experience. Even though we only saw 5 minutes of arguments, it is hard not to be awed by the courtroom itself. Without a doubt, I will return another time.”