On September 3, a North Carolina court struck down the state’s legislative district plan as an impermissible partisan gerrymander under the state constitution.
The plaintiffs, which included Common Cause and the Democratic Party of North Carolina, alleged that the state legislative district maps adopted and enacted by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2017 infringed upon the rights to equal protection, free speech, association, and free elections guaranteed by the state constitution.
The three-judge panel of state superior court judges – Paul Ridgeway, Joseph Crosswhite, and Alma Hinton – ruled unanimously in favor of the plaintiffs. In their ruling, the judges wrote, “[The] 2017 Enacted Maps, as drawn, do not permit voters to freely choose their representative, but rather representatives are choosing voters based upon sophisticated partisan sorting. It is not the free will of the people that is fairly ascertained through extreme partisan gerrymandering. Rather, it is the carefully crafted will of the map drawer that predominates.”
Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, praised the court’s decision: “The court has made clear that partisan gerrymandering violates our state’s constitution and is unacceptable. Thanks to the court’s landmark decision, politicians in Raleigh will no longer be able to rig our elections through partisan gerrymandering.”
Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger (R), although critical of the court’s ruling, announced that state Republicans would not appeal the decision: “We disagree with the court’s ruling as it contradicts the Constitution and binding legal precedent, but we intend to respect the court’s decision and finally put this divisive battle behind us.”
The court ordered state lawmakers to draft remedial maps by September 18, 2019, for use in the 2020 election cycle. Should lawmakers fail to adopt remedial maps, the court will appoint a referee to develop and recommend remedial maps to the court. In 2020, all 50 seats in the state Senate and all 120 seats in the state House are up for election. The primary is slated for March 3, 2020.
North Carolina has a divided government. Democrat Roy Cooper serves as governor, and he is running for re-election in 2020. Meanwhile, Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature, holding a 29-21 majority in the Senate and a 65-55 majority in the House.