North Carolina court rejects GOP gerrymander as Republican maps could set up SCOTUS battle

Latest blow to Republicans as parties wrestle for control of Congress during contentious redistricting cycle

Alex Woodward
New York
Saturday 05 February 2022 16:18 GMT
Related video: Republican congressman says gerrymandering should help GOP take back House

North Carolina’s Supreme Court has rejected congressional and state legislative maps drawn up by the state’s Republican legislators as unconstitutional, another blow to GOP legislators as courtroom battles over voting rights violations and partisan and racial gerrymandering climb towards the nation’s highest court.

The 4-3 party-line decision from the state’s highest court on 4 February orders the GOP-controlled state legislature to redraw political maps by 18 February to be approved by a lower court no later than 23 February – which is also the deadline for the state’s Republican leaders to demand an emergency stay as they appeal to the US Supreme Court.

Friday’s decision comes after federal judges found that Alabama’s GOP-dominated legislature discriminated against Black voters by approving a congressional map that significantly dilutes their political power. Ohio’s Supreme Court also recently rejected Republican legislators’ proposed congressional map for violating a constitutional amendment banning partisan gerrymandering.

The 40-page order in North Carolina found that the state’s Republican legislators deprived voters of “substantially equal voting power on the basis of partisan affiliation” by drawing a map that “diminishes or dilutes a voter’s opportunity to aggregate with like-minded voters,” which “unconstitutionally infringes on that voter’s fundamental right to vote.”

The judges’ decision comes as Democratic and Republican officials wrestle for control of Congress in this year’s midterm elections in the middle of a contentious nationwide redistricting cycle, the once-a-decade process of redrafting the nation’s political boundaries based on US Census results.

Republican-drawn maps in North Carolina all but guaranteed Republican control of at least 10 of the state’s 14 seats in the House of Representatives, despite the state’s voters being roughly equally divided between parties, according to the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.

The maps, which were approved in November, would create two new Republican-leaning districts and remove two Democratic-leaning districts.

The maps also could have given Republican state legislators a veto-proof majority in the General Assembly.

“This is the justice we sought when we filed this lawsuit,” said Carrie Clarke, executive director of the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, a plaintiff in one of the cases challenging the maps.

“With new, constitutional maps, North Carolinians will have a fighting chance to elect a government that fulfills their desire for environmental justice and climate action,” she said.

The state’s Republican party accused the state Supreme Court of choosing “political expediency over reason in order to invalidate” the maps drawn up by legislators.

“This blatantly partisan decision flies in the face of centuries of judicial and legislative precedent and directly contradicts any plain reading of the North Carolina Constitution,” North Carolina GOP chairman Michael Whatley said in a statement.

For the first time in decades, states are drafting their political boundaries without critical protections from the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, after the Supreme Court invalidated a requirement that changes to voting rules from states with histories of discrimination be approved by the US Department of Justice.

In 2019, the US Supreme Court – following challenges to partisan maps in North Carolina and Maryland – ruled that Congress and state courts should rule on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering. Following Friday’s ruling, lawyers for plaintiffs argued that the judges’ ruling carried out the high court’s mandate.

Over the last several months, Senate Republicans repeatedly invoked a filibuster to block legislation for national voting rights protections – including restrictions on partisan gerrymandering – as well as restoring elements of the Voting Rights Act tossed out by the Supreme Court.

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