North Carolina Court Strikes Down State Legislative Map

September 3, 2019 by Dan McCue
An illustration from Tuesday's Superior Court ruling in North Carolina showing partisan targeting in three state Senate districts.

North Carolina’s state legislative district maps were so severely manipulated to benefit Republican candidates that they violate the state constitution, a three-judge state superior court panel ruled Tuesday.

The 357-page ruling handed down in Wake County, North Carolina, by Superior Court Judges Paul C. Ridgeway, Joseph N. Crosswhite and Alma L. Hinton, struck down the state’s current legislative district maps, effective immediately, because they violated the rights of Democratic voters.

State lawmakers now have until Sep. 18 to draw new districts, and they’ve been forbidden from using any past data about election results as they determine where the new lines should go.

The judges found that the North Carolina’s GOP-controlled General Assembly had employed “surgical precision” when they “carefully craft[ed] maps that grouped many voters into districts predominantly based upon partisan criteria by packing and cracking Democratic voters to dilute their collective voting strength, thereby creating partisan gerrymandered legislative maps.”

“The 2017 legislative maps throughout the state and on a district-by-district level, when compared on a district-by-district level to virtually all other possible maps that could be drawn with neutral, non-partisan criteria, are, in many instances, “extreme outliers” on a partisan scale to the advantage of the Republican party,” the panel continued.

The judges went on to say “the effect of these carefully crafted partisan maps is that, in all but the most unusual election scenarios, the Republican party will control a majority of both chambers of the General Assembly.”

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Rucho v. Common Cause, which challenged North Carolina’s congressional district map, that federal courts can’t do anything to stop partisan gerrymandering because the federal Constitution provides no “constitutional directive or legal standard” to guide the courts on how to address even blatant partisan gerrymandering.

However, the Supreme Court added that “our conclusion does not condone excessive partisan gerrymandering” and does not “condemn complaints about redistricting to echo into a void.” Rather, the Supreme Court observed that provisions of “state constitutions can provide standards and guidance for state courts to apply.”

Tuesday’s ruling was the first test of that theory.

“Today’s state court ruling in North Carolina is a major victory in the fight against gerrymandering and yet another example of politicians being held accountable in the courts for map manipulation,” said Kelly Burton, president of the National Redistricting Foundation, after the ruling was announced.

“As the ruling clearly states, Republicans in the General Assembly drew these maps to perpetuate their majorities, and the districts were drawn with ‘surgical precision’ to ensure that outcome. After a decade of politicians picking their voters, the people of North Carolina should now finally have the opportunity to vote on fair maps that allow them to choose their representatives,” Burton said.

The National Redistricting Foundation is supporting plaintiffs in this case, Common Cause v. Lewis.

North Carolina Republicans controlled the redistricting process in the state in 2011, and drew congressional and state legislative district lines that significantly benefited GOP lawmakers.

Republicans were consistently able to win more than 60% of the seats in both of the state’s legislative chambers despite only winning about half of the statewide vote. The GOP enjoyed that veto-proof majority until 2018.

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