Election Law

‘State-by-state slog’ ahead after North Carolina rules partisan maps violate state constitution

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North Carolina map

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A three-judge state court in North Carolina ruled Tuesday that state legislative maps drawn to benefit Republicans are an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander under the state constitution.

The court unanimously ruled that the map violated state constitutional requirements for free elections, equal protection, and freedom of speech and assembly. The court gave the legislature two weeks to draw new districts, report the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Raleigh News & Observer and a press release by Common Cause, one of the plaintiffs challenging the map.

The court said that, if allowed to stand, the partisan maps rather than the will of the voters would dictate election outcomes in a significant number of legislative districts. Republicans control both the state senate and house.

Writing at his Election Law Blog, University of California at Irvine law professor Richard Hasen called the decision a “very, very big development indeed.” In an interview with the Washington Post, he predicted a “state-by-state slog” ahead as more partisan maps are challenged in state courts.

About half the states have free-election clauses and 49 states have right-to-vote guarantees that could be used to challenge partisan gerrymanders, University of Kentucky law professor Joshua Douglas told the New York Times.

The North Carolina decision is the first major ruling on partisan gerrymandering since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that federal courts have no power to decide partisan gerrymandering challenges.

Stanton Jones, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the New York Times the North Carolina decision could also apply to the congressional map for the U.S. House of Representatives if a new lawsuit is filed.

Republican Senate leader Phil Berger said he would not appeal Tuesday’s decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court, which has six Democratic justices and one Republican.

Hasen speculated in a different blog post that Republicans believe they would lose on appeal, and they don’t want a ruling by a higher court that would have greater precedential value. They may also hope that a redrawn map will be accepted and be more advantageous than a court-drawn map.

The case is Common Cause v. Lewis.

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