On Tuesday (Sep. 3rd) a panel of three judges in Raleigh threw out North Carolina’s state legislative maps as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander and ordered lawmakers to draw up new ones in two weeks.
The Republican leader of the State Senate, Phil Berger, said the Legislature would not appeal the ruling. The North Carolina Supreme Court, which would hear any appeal, is made up of six Democrats and one Republican.
The United States Supreme Court ruled in June, by a 5-to-4 margin, that federal courts could not remedy gerrymandering based on politics. In an earlier decision, the Court had ruled that it would hear cases based on racial gerrymandering. An earlier version of North Carolina's redistricting had been ruled to violate the
ban on racially gerrymandered districts.
In response to that decision, the GOP-dominated North Carolina legislature redrew the maps, but made it clear that it was doing so for partisan advantage, not racial advantage.
The effects of Tuesday's ruling, which requires new maps to be drawn and approved by September 18th, could go beyond state legislative maps which is what this lawsuit addressed. It appears likely that the ruling could be applicable to the Congressional district map, but a new lawsuit will likely be required to overturn those.
Tuesday’s decision appears to end one legal battle over the legislative maps that had already forced the redrawing of 28 districts found to be racial gerrymanders. Since Republicans drew the legislative boundaries eight years ago, the party has maintained healthy majorities — and often supermajorities — in the State House and the State Senate, even when Democrats won a majority of the vote statewide.
The 357-page decision Tuesday said the Republican-drawn maps violated the State Constitution’s clauses guaranteeing free elections, equal protection under the law and freedom of speech and assembly.
While the debate over gerrymandering has taken on a bitter partisan cast in recent years, the North Carolina judges went out of their way to make clear that their ruling was based on the law, not politics.
The unanimous decision was issued by two Democratic judges: Paul Ridgeway of Wake County and Alma Hinton of Halifax County ; and one Republican, Joseph Crosswhite of Iredell County.
“The conclusions of this Court today reflect the unanimous and best efforts of the undersigned trial judges — each hailing from different geographic regions and each with differing ideological and political outlooks — to apply core constitutional principles to this complex and divisive topic,” the judges wrote in their decision.
The judges’ ruling threw out State House and Senate maps that had been drawn in 2011 under the guidance of Republican political strategist, Thomas B. Hofeller, renowned for his skill in drafting partisan gerrymanders. Democrats in the Legislature were not allowed to meet Hofeller and had no role in the maps’ creation.
After the 2017 decision throwing out 28 districts as racially gerrymandered, legislative leaders told a federal court that racial statistics would not be used in drafting the new districts.
The resulting maps were summarized using results from 10 previous statewide elections. By that yardstick, the judges said, Republicans would have won a House and Senate supermajority in each of those 10 elections had the new districts been in effect.
Afterlast November’s midterm elections reduced Republicans to a minority of the vote statewide, the party still held on to 54 percent of State House seats and 58 percent of State Senate seats.
During the trial, the plaintiffs also claimed that Republican leaders misled the federal court when they claimed that race played no role in drawing the new districts. Data found on Hofeller’s computer after his death in August of last year showed that he had calculated the racial balance of every new district.
Candidate filing for the March 3rd primary begins Dec. 2nd — but the judges said they are serious about those elections being held using new maps. The judges gave the legislature just two weeks, until September 18th, to draw new maps. They ruled the new lines can be drawn to protect incumbents from being pitted against one another but can’t use any other political data.
Judges also told lawmakers they might reschedule the March 3rd Primary Election if the legislature can’t come up with new maps in time. “The Court retains jurisdiction to move the primary date for the General Assembly elections, or all of the State’s 2020 primaries, including for offices other than the General Assembly, should doing so become necessary."
Most of the affected NC House & Senate districts that will have to be redrawn are in the eastern part of the state. In our area, the NC House districts in Gaston County (and one including part of Cleveland) will have to be redrawn.
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