North Carolina court strikes down state’s legislative maps as partisan gerrymander
You may have heard that a North Carolina court struck down the state’s legislative districts September 3 as an impermissible partisan gerrymander under the state constitution. Here’s a brief summary of the case along with the next steps.
A group of plaintiffs—including Common Cause and the Democratic Party of North Carolina—filed suit against the state legislative district map adopted by the general assembly in 2017. This redistricting plan was a remedial map used after certain districts were deemed to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders in 2016 by a federal district court. The lawsuit alleged that the state legislative district map infringed upon the rights to equal protection, free speech, association, and free elections guaranteed by the state constitution.
A 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.”
Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger (R) announced that state Republicans would not appeal the decision. In a statement, he said, “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.”
North Carolina Superior Court justices are elected to eight-year terms. From 1998 through 2016, these elections were nonpartisan; however, they became partisan elections starting in 2018. Ridgeway, Crosswhite, and Hinton were each last elected unopposed in 2014, 2016, and 2012, respectively.
The court ordered state lawmakers to draft remedial maps by September 18 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. All 50 seats in the state Senate and 120 seats in the state House are up for election in 2020. The filing deadline for state legislative seats is December 20, 2019. The primary is scheduled for March 3, 2020.
North Carolina currently has divided government. Democrat Roy Cooper was elected governor in 2016 and is running for re-election in 2020. Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature—a 29-21 majority in the state Senate and a 65-55 majority in the state House.
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