A panel of three federal judges in North Carolina ruled on Tuesday that the state’s congressional map was unconstitutionally partisan, and ordered that it be re-drawn before the end of the month.
The court agreed that the map, which was originally drawn in 2011, was drawn to favor Republicans and thus violates the First Amendment, as well as the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and the Election Clause. It’s the second time North Carolina’s congressional maps have been thrown out — in 2016, three federal judges ruled that state’s congressional districts were the result of an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.
“We find that Plaintiffs presented more-than-adequate evidence to satisfy their burden to demonstrate that the General Assembly was motivated by invidious partisan intent in drawing the 2016 plan,” Judge James A. Wynn Jr. noted in the 191-page opinion on the ruling, adding that “the pursuit of partisan advantage predominated over the General Assembly’s non-partisan redistricting objectives.”
— David Nir (@DavidNir) January 9, 2018
“Today’s ruling was just the latest example of the courts telling state legislators in North Carolina that citizens should be able to pick their representatives, instead of politicians picking their voters,” Eric Holder, former attorney general under the Obama administration, said in a statement. “It’s long past time for the legislature to produce fair maps that represent the diverse communities of North Carolina.”
Rick Hasen, professor of law and political science at the University of California at Irvine, said that Republicans would likely appeal the decision back to the Supreme Court. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, North Carolina has one of the most extreme cases of gerrymandering in the country which is responsible, along with gerrymandering in Michigan and Pennsylvania, for up to 10 extra Republican seats in all elections since 2011.
“Republicans comprise 30 percent of registered voters in North Carolina, yet they crafted a congressional map that would ensure Republican success in 10 of 13 districts, or 76 percent,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) said in a statement. “The Republicans made this case relatively simple when they admitted in court that the congressional map was drawn for partisan political advantage.”
When North Carolina Republicans redrew the electoral maps in the state after 2011, the state was transformed; the changes effectively meant that, hypothetically, Democrats could win more than half of the vote and still leave 9 of the state’s 13 districts in the hands of the GOP.
The problem of gerrymandered congressional maps with serious electoral implications extends far beyond North Carolina. The Supreme Court is now considering a case in Wisconsin that would allow for a new articulation of what qualifies as a gerrymandering, and last summer, a federal court ruled that two of Texas’ congressional districts violate both the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution, just to name a few.