On December 2, 2019, a three-judge panel of North Carolina’s state superior court ruled unanimously that U.S. House elections in 2020 will take place under a remedial map adopted last month by state lawmakers. The court had earlier ruled that the original map constituted a partisan gerrymander in violation of state law. The court also ordered that the candidate filing period open immediately, having previously delayed the filing period pending consideration of the remedial map and the objections to it.
How did this start? On September 27, 2019, opponents of North Carolina’s congressional district plan filed suit in state superior court, alleging that the district map enacted by the state legislature in 2016 constituted a partisan gerrymander in violation of state law. The plaintiffs asked that the court bar the state from using the maps in the 2020 election cycle.
On October 28, 2019, the court granted this request, enjoining further application of the 2016 maps. In its order, the court wrote, “The loss to Plaintiffs’ fundamental rights guaranteed by the North Carolina Constitution will undoubtedly be irreparable if congressional elections are allowed to proceed under the 2016 congressional districts.”
The court did not issue a full decision on the merits, stating that “disruptions to the election process need not occur, nor may an expedited schedule for summary judgment or trial even be needed, should the General Assembly, on its own initiative, act immediately and with all due haste to enact new congressional districts.” The same three-judge panel, comprising Judges Paul C. Ridgeway, Joseph N. Crosswhite, and Alma L. Hinton, struck down the state’s legislative district plan on similar grounds on September 3, 2019.
On November 14, 2019, the state House approved the remedial map (HB1029) by a vote of 55-46 .The vote split along party lines, with all Republicans voting in favor of the bill and all Democrats voting against it. The state Senate approved the bill on November 15, 2019, by a vote of 24-17, also along party lines.
What were the reactions to the remedial map? Democrats opposed the remedial plan and announced their intention to challenge it in court. Eric Holder, former U.S. Attorney General and chair of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said, “The congressional map passed by Republicans in the North Carolina legislature simply replaces one partisan gerrymander with a new one. This new map fails to respond to the court’s order by continuing to split communities of interest, packing voters in urban areas, and manipulating the district lines to provide Republicans with an unfair partisan advantage.”
Meanwhile, Republican Representative Patrick McHenry dismissed these criticisms: “Eric Holder and (former President) Barack Obama have raised a lot of money for this outcome, and they’ve pursued a really aggressive legal strategy for their partisan outcomes, and right now they’re calling it partisan gerrymandering, but what they’re seeking is partisan gerrymandering for the left. We basically have a Wild West of redistricting. This will be the fourth map in six cycles, and I think that is so confusing for voters and has a major negative impact on voters.”
What comes next? In 2020, all 13 of North Carolina’s seats in the U.S. House will be up for election. Heading into 2020, Republicans hold 10 of those seats, and Democrats hold the remaining three. In the wake of the court’s Dec. 2 order confirming the implementation of the remedial map in 2020, Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, said via Twitter, “Not going to officially make NC House ratings changes until we know the new map is final, but here’s what’s tenatively coming: NC-2: Likely R to Safe D; NC-6: Safe R to Safe D; NC-8: Safe R to Likely R; NC-13: Likely R to Safe R. Ratings changes suggest a two-seat D net gain.”