In a blow to North Carolina Republicans, a panel of federal judges ruled on Tuesday that the state’s congressional map is an
unconstitutionally “partisan” gerrymander. The ruling gave the state until 5 p.m. on Jan. 29 to submit a new map or the court would take further action.
The unanimous ruling by judges appointed by Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush was the first time that a court has struck down congressional districts for being too partisan notes the Charlotte Observer, but the Wisconsin congressional map is currently on trial before the Supreme Court in a similar case.
In the North Carolina decision, the majority held, “On its most fundamental level, partisan gerrymandering violates ‘the core principle of republican government . . . that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”
Once part of the Republican bloc of Southern states, North Carolina has been increasingly purple in recent election cycles. Only three of the state’s 13 congressional seats are held by Republicans, as are both Senate seats, but those statistics understate the fluid nature of Tarheel politics.
Democrat Kay Hagan was elected to the Senate in the 2008 Democrat wave, but was unseated by Thom Tillis in 2014. North Carolina’s other Republican senator, Richard Burr, took the seat of John Edwards, who retired in 2005 in order to run for vice president. While the Republican candidate has won North Carolina in three of the last four presidential elections (2008 was the exception), margins have been close. Donald Trump carried the state by less than four points.
The current North Carolina congressional districts date back to 2016. The districts were redrawn to exclude racial data after a court found that the previous districts, drawn in 2011, were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. At the time, Republicans were open about drawing districts to their advantage, a common practice in many states.
“I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it’s
possible to draw a map with eleven Republicans and two Democrats,” N.C. Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett County) said at the time. Lewis’ comment was the basis for a lawsuit by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause in North Carolina that led to Tuesday’s ruling.
Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party, blasted the ruling on Twitter saying, “It is incredibly disappointing activist Judge Jim Wynn is waging a personal, partisan war on North Carolina Republicans.” Woodhouse added that the decision was a “hostile takeover” of the North Carolina General Assembly, which has responsibility for drawing congressional districts.
North Carolina Republicans plan to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, but a delay in redistricting may cause further problems as the 2018 elections approach. Congressional candidates must file to run for office by February 12, scarcely two weeks after the court’s deadline.
If the ruling stands and North Carolina’s congressional districts are redrawn to be less partisan, the new lines could contribute to an
already tough election year for the GOP. The loss of safe congressional seats in North Carolina would come at a particularly bad time Republicans as many signs point toward Democrats winning control of the House of Representatives in a possible wave
election this year.