North Carolina court rejects Republican Gerrymander of Maps

The North Carolina Supreme Court on Friday struck down Republican efforts to lock in political dominance in the state, saying congressional and state legislative cards were partisan gerrymanders who violated the state Constitution.

The ruling requires the Republican-controlled legislature to not only submit new maps to the court, but offer a range of statistical analyzes to show “a significant likelihood that the precinct plan will give voters of all political parties a substantially equal opportunity to translate the votes”. in seats” during the elections.

The requirement pushed back the argument against the map redesign that the lawmaker proposed during oral arguments in court this week: that the court had no right to say if and when political maps cross the line between partisanship acceptable and injustice.

The judges’ 4-3 ruling, split by party, not only sets a precedent for judging the legality of future cards in the state, but could play an important role in the fight for control of the House of Representatives during November elections. Republican-drawn maps had effectively awarded the party control of at least 10 of the 14 House seats the state will have in the next Congress, even though voters across the state are roughly evenly split among the two parties.

It was a challenge to past partisan maps of North Carolina and Maryland that led the United States Supreme Court to end decades of federal debate over the constitutionality of partisan gerrymanders, ruling in 2019 that it is was dealing with political matters beyond his jurisdiction. The justices then said that Congress and state courts should rule on the matter, and attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case said Friday that the new ruling carried out that mandate to the letter.

“The Supreme Court of the United States has said that it is up to the state courts to curb partisan gerrymandering, and that is exactly what the Supreme Court of North Carolina has done,” said Elisabeth Theodore of the law firm. Arnold & Porter lawyers. “The court’s direction is clear: The General Assembly must stop cheating and draw new, fair maps so the people of North Carolina can have a say in who governs them.”

The decision comes as federal and state courts have recently proven a bulwark against some excessive gerrymanders. A state court in Ohio dismissed maps drawn by Republicans in the state legislature last month as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders, and a federal court in Alabama ruled last month that Republicans had to redraw their map of Congress to create a second district that gave minorities a fair chance to elect their preferred candidate.

The court rulings were a boon for Democrats, who entered the latest round of redistricting at a significant disadvantage. Republicans controlled the map-drawing process in 187 congressional districts, while Democrats could draw 75 districts.

Court rulings in North Carolina, Ohio and Alabama have all forced Republicans back to the drawing board and are expected to result in either more competitive seats or opportunities for Democrats in the mid-election. mandate.

The 2019 Supreme Court ruling on partisan gerrymandering has led opponents of partisan maps to take their arguments from federal courts to state benches, where constitutions often provide more legal protections for voters. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania gave them an important victory in 2018overruling Republican-drawn maps that the justices found violated the state Constitution.

In the North Carolina case, a lower court said last month that while the state and congressional cards were extreme partisan gerrymanders in every way, the state constitution did not prohibit them. however not.

But the state Supreme Court relied on the Pennsylvania decision in its opinion on Friday, saying the cards violated ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ the state’s free speech guarantees. , freedom of assembly, free elections and equal protection under the law.

“The General Assembly violates the North Carolina Constitution when it deprives a voter of their right to substantially equal voting power on the basis of their partisan affiliation,” the ruling said. A political map that “diminishes or dilutes a voter’s ability to group with like-minded voters,” the judges said, “unconstitutionally infringes that voter’s fundamental right to vote.”

But while the ruling cited “several reliable ways” to decide when a gerrymandered card crossed the line in unacceptable partisanship, it did not satisfy lawmakers’ demand for a clear line indicating when that line was crossed. Instead, he said a political map would be presumed constitutional if “a combination of these parameters demonstrates that there is a significant likelihood that the constituency map will give voters of all political parties substantially equal odds.” elect candidates.

Republicans on the court, led by Chief Justice Paul Newby, argued that was dodging the issue. By giving the court political powers that only the state legislature or voters could wield, he wrote, the majority on the court “rejects judicial restraint, seizing the opportunity to advance its agenda.”

Nick Corasaniti contributed report.

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