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Friday, January 19, 2018

The Supreme Court Stays N.C. Congressional Gerrymandering Ruling

Posted by on Fri, Jan 19, 2018 at 9:15 AM

This post is excerpted from the INDY’s morning newsletter, Primer. To read this morning’s edition in full, click here. To get all the day’s local and national headlines and insights delivered straight to your inbox, sign up here.

Remember last week, when a federal district court ruled that the N.C. General Assembly’s congressional districts—redrawn in 2016 after the original districts were slapped down as racial gerrymanders—were unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders and lawmakers needed to quickly redo the districts one more time ahead of the 2018 midterms? Never mind that—at least for now. [N&O]
  • “North Carolina lawmakers will not have to draw new congressional election districts by next week, and voters across the state could go to the polls in the coming year to elect its 13 members of Congress from districts that three judges have found to be unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court issued an emergency stay of a partisan gerrymandering ruling that was the first of its kind for congressional districts. The order, released on Thursday night, is two paragraphs long announcing the court’s agreement to halt a three-judge panel’s ruling from last week in which North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts were ruled unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders that violated free speech and equal protection rights provided in the U.S. Constitution.”
  • “The three-judge panel’s ruling was the first time federal judges have struck down congressional districts as partisan gerrymanders. A Wisconsin case that was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court late last year involves state legislative districts found to be partisan gerrymanders. … In North Carolina, [Judges] Wynn and Britt also found that the 2016 redistricting plan designed to give Republicans wins in 10 of the 13 districts also violated the free speech of the challengers by trying to weaken the voices of Democrats with whom they did not agree. [Judge] Osteen dissented from his colleagues on that point, but agreed overall that the maps were unconstitutional.”
  • “The court did not indicate whether the case would be resolved by the 2018 elections. Candidate filing for the elections in the coming year opens on Feb. 12. … Republican lawmakers urged the panel of judges to stay its ruling while the Supreme Court considered partisan gerrymandering cases from Wisconsin and Maryland.”
  • WaPo: “The practical effect is that this year’s elections will almost surely be conducted under the 2016 boundaries, in which Republicans hold 10 of the 13 congressional seats. The GOP domination’s of the congressional delegation belies North Carolina’s recent history as a battleground state. It has a Democratic governor and attorney general, who have declined to defend the maps. … The Supreme Court has never thrown out a state’s electoral district map because of partisan gerrymandering. It has two cases on its docket that will decide just that question—but they are unlikely to be resolved in time to affect any plan to redraw the North Carolina districts.”

WHAT IT MEANS: The Supreme Court’s intervention isn’t exactly a surprise. The North Carolina was marked the first time a court had struck down congressional maps on the grounds of explicit political gerrymandering designed the rig the election in favor of the party in power—which is the case in North Carolina, undeniably. Since the court is already dealing with two cases of partisan gerrymandering, and the questions of whether it’s permissible and under what circumstances, there’s good reason for the court to be suspicious of quickly redrawing boundaries ahead of an election later this year. That being said, however, that also means this year’s congressional elections will take place in districts explicitly designed to give Republicans a 10–3 advantage, no matter what the voters think.

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