Judges strike down North Carolina GOP-drawn voting map

Federal judges determined that North Carolina's congressional district map gave the Republican Party an advantage for most seats and ordered the map to be redrawn immediately. 

Corey Lowenstein/The News & Observer/AP/File
North Carolina Republican Sens. Dan Soucek (l.) and Brent Jackson, members of the Senate Redistricting Committee, examine a historical map on Feb. 16, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C. Federal judges ruled late Tuesday that GOP-drawn voting maps were illegally gerrymandered.

Federal judges have ruled that North Carolina's congressional district map drawn by legislative Republicans is illegally gerrymandered because of excessive partisanship that gave the GOP a rock-solid advantage for most seats and must quickly be redone.

The ruling late Tuesday marks the second time this decade that the GOP's congressional boundaries in the state have been thrown out by a three-judge panel. In 2016, another panel tossed out two majority black congressional districts initially drawn in 2011, saying there was no justification for using race as the predominant factor in forming them. The redrawn map was the basis for a new round of lawsuits.

The latest lawsuit – filed by election advocacy groups and Democrats – said the replacement for the racial gerrymander also contained unlawful partisan gerrymanders. Those who sued argued that Republican legislators went too far when they followed criteria designed to retain the party's 10 to 3 majority in the state delegation.

Tuesday's ruling marks the first time a congressional plan was struck down on partisan gerrymandering claims, according to Allison Riggs, an attorney representing the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and other plaintiffs.

All three judges agreed the "invidious partisanship" in the plan violated the Constitution's equal protection provision and direction to the state to hold congressional elections because it took the power to elect their representatives away from the people.

"We find that the General Assembly drew and enacted the 2016 plan with intent to subordinate the interests of non-Republican voters and entrench Republican control of North Carolina's congressional delegation," Judge Jim Wynn of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in the majority opinion. Mr. Wynn added that the evidence shows the "plan achieved the General Assembly's discriminatory partisan objective."

The judges ordered the General Assembly to approve another set of districts by Jan. 24. Candidate-filing for the November congressional elections begins Feb. 12, with primaries set for early May. A majority of the judges also agreed the panel would hire a redistricting expert to draw replacement boundaries if the legislature won't.

Through a spokeswoman, state Sen. Ralph Hise (R), chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, said lawmakers plan to appeal. There's a good chance Republicans will try to ask the US Supreme Court to block the ruling's enforcement until the justices rule in a similar case from Wisconsin that they heard in the fall. That case involves legislative districts.

The districts "are fair and were drawn following all known rules, and existing case law," state Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse said in a news release.

But Bob Phillips with Common Cause, which with other voters filed a lawsuit tried with the League of Women Voters' case, said "politicians will no longer be allowed to use partisan gerrymandering in order to shield themselves from accountability to the public" if the ruling stands.

At the time of the 2016 debate, according to the order, Rep. David Lewis (R), House redistricting chief, attempted to justify the criteria by saying "I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats. So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country."

Wynn and US district Judge Earl Britt agreed that the map also violated the First Amendment rights of Democrats in each district where their favored candidate had little chance to win, burdening their freedom of speech and of association. In a separate opinion, district Judge William Osteen wrote that those who sued had failed to prove those rights had been violated.

During a trial in October in Greensboro, N.C., attorneys for Republican mapmakers argued that the plaintiffs had blown the partisanship factor out of proportion, saying aspects like incumbent protection and district compactness were considered. But Wynn, in his 191-page opinion, gave lots of credence to the number-crunching of math and political science experts who testified that the only explanation for the 2016 map was partisanship.

Wynn is on a separate three-judge panel weighing whether to accept changes to two dozen state House and Senate districts completed by a special master. Lawmakers redrew legislative maps last August after boundaries originally drawn in 2011 were struck down as racial gerrymanders, but the judges were worried unconstitutional lines remain.

Mr. Woodhouse focused his critique on Wynn, a former North Carolina state judge nominated to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals by former President Barack Obama. Wynn, according to Woodhouse is "waging a personal, partisan war on North Carolina Republican voters." Mr. Osteen was nominated by former President George W. Bush while former President Jimmy Carter chose Mr. Britt.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Judges strike down North Carolina GOP-drawn voting map
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2018/0110/Judges-strike-down-North-Carolina-GOP-drawn-voting-map
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe