Editor’s Note: Since publication, the N&O has learned that passages from this story were taken in large part or in whole from “Is Partisan Gerrymandering Legal? Why the Courts Are Divided.” by the New York Times without attribution. This is a violation of our standards. We apologize to our readers.
Attorneys representing voters who successfully challenged North Carolina’s congressional districts as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders are protesting lawmakers’ attempt to use the election maps again this year.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts had given attorneys until noon Wednesday to offer response to a request last week from Republican legislative leaders for the country’s high court to get involved in another gerrymandering case in North Carolina.
“In the 2016 election, Republican congressional candidates received slightly more than 50 percent of the statewide vote in North Carolina,” attorneys for the League of Women Voters wrote in opposition to lawmakers’ request for an emergency stay that would put a lower court’s ruling on hold. “With this slim majority, they won ten of North Carolina’s congressional seats. The resulting partisan asymmetry was the largest in the country in the 2016 election, and the fourth-largest, on net, of all congressional plans nationwide since 1972.”
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Attorneys for Common Cause, which also challenged the congressional districts, added the organization’s opposition and suggested that if the Supreme Court takes up the North Carolina case, it should expedite it so voters in North Carolina won’t go through a fourth election cycle this decade with maps ruled unconstitutional by the courts.
“Not only is there a strong public interest in constitutionally drawn legislative districts, but moreover, a stay would tend to legitimize the flagrant partisan abuses of the North Carolina legislature – abuses that have continued now for almost a decade – and would invite legislatures across the Nation to follow suit,” the Common Cause attorneys stated. “The Court should not signal that it will reward gamesmanship and obstinacy, especially when fundamental constitutional rights are at stake.”
Decade of maps
Since 2011, when the Republican-led General Assembly drew new election lines for state and congressional offices, at least five lawsuits have been filed challenging election districts as unconstitutionally weakening the influence of black voters or, more recently, voters who disagree with the party’s platform.
Earlier this month, a panel of federal judges ruled unanimously that when lawmakers redrew the state’s 13 congressional districts in 2016 after their 2011 maps were found to be racial gerrymanders, the drawing of the new election districts was “motivated by invidious partisan intent.”
Republican lawmakers urged the panel of judges to stay its ruling while the Supreme Court considered partisan gerrymandering cases from Wisconsin and Maryland.
They argued that there was “an extremely high likelihood” that in one or both of those cases, the high court’s ruling would make it necessary for the panel of judges considering any new North Carolina map to “revisit” its decision.
NC is not Wisconsin or Maryland
On Tuesday, the judges – 4th U.S. Circuit Judge James A. Wynn and District Judges William Osteen and Earl Britt – rejected that request, saying the cases in the other states are different enough legally that their decision could stand no matter how the justices rule.
For example, the Wisconsin matter involves state legislative districts, not congressional districts as in North Carolina.
“Any decision the Supreme Court renders in those cases is highly unlikely to undermine all of the factual and legal bases upon which this court found the 2016 plan violated the Constitution and enjoined further use of that plan,” the judges wrote.
The three-judge panel’s denial of a stay was not a surprise to legal analysts. The judges wrote more than 200 pages explaining why the districts approved two years ago were marked by “invidious partisanship” that violated several parts of the U.S. Constitution.
Barring a delay by the U.S. Supreme Court, legislators will be required to redraw new maps for North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts by Jan. 24 and get the maps and any hearing reports related to them back to the court by Jan. 29.