Election Law

Court may bar use of North Carolina congressional map in next election due to partisan gerrymander

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North Carolina map

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A three-judge panel said Monday it may require North Carolina or a special master to redraw the state’s congressional districts before the November elections because the boundaries were unconstitutionally drawn in 2016 to benefit Republicans.

The panel ruled after the U.S. Supreme Court directed it to reconsider whether the North Carolina plaintiffs had standing in light of its June decision, Gill v. Whitford. The Gill decision held that an allegation of statewide injury to Democrats did not establish standing.

The panel found standing, confirmed its January finding that North Carolina’s partisan gerrymander was unconstitutional, and asked the parties to submit briefs on a possible remedy. The Washington Post, the New York Times and Reuters have coverage of the Aug. 27 opinion. Common Cause has a press release announcing the decision in the case, Rucho v. Common Cause.

The court said plaintiffs in the case include members of Common Cause and the League of Women Voters living in each of the state’s 13 congressional districts, and there was evidence of district-specific harm to support standing.

Republican candidates prevailed in 10 districts in the fall of 2016 despite receiving only 53 percent of the statewide vote.

The panel decision said giving North Carolina lawmakers another chance to draw new boundaries after the election would “further delay electing representatives under a constitutional districting plan.”

The panel asked for briefing on whether to use the current map or a new plan in the November elections. The court said it was considering allowing lawmakers to quickly draw a remedial plan, while at the same time appointing a special master to draw an alternative remedial plan. The court said it could be possible to hold a new primary election in November using a remedial map, to be followed by a special general election in January.

Appeals of redistricting decisions go directly to the Supreme Court, which has eight members following the retirement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. A tie vote would leave the panel decision undisturbed.

The high court has never held that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. According to the New York Times, voting rights advocates view Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. “as the only prospect on the court—and a slim one, at that—for a fifth vote to outlaw partisan gerrymanders.”

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