A three-judge federal panel has again ruled against North Carolina’s congressional election map. The decision adds another wrinkle to the state’s already complicated 2018 election picture.
Over the course of 321 pages, the federal judges raised the prospect that state lawmakers might be forced to redraw congressional maps again in the next few weeks. Judges also suggested that the next congressional elections might not be complete until January 2019.
“The 2016 Plan’s invidious partisanship runs contrary to the Constitution’s vesting of the power to elect Representatives in ‘the People,'” Judge James Wynn wrote for the court’s majority.”To begin, partisan gerrymanders, like the 2016 Plan, violate ‘the core principle of republican government’ preserved in Article I, Section 2 — ‘namely, that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.’ And by favoring supporters of Republican candidates over supporters of non-Republican candidates, the 2016 Plan ‘defeat[s] the principle solemnly embodied in the Great Compromise’ because it reflects a successful effort by the General Assembly to ‘draw the lines of congressional districts in such a way as to give some voters a greater voice in choosing a Congressman than others.’”
Judge Earl Britt supported Wynn’s opinion. Judge William Osteen supported much of the majority opinion, while rejecting some of Wynn’s reasoning. The latest decision follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Wisconsin redistricting case Gill v. Whitford. Justices in that case questioned whether the plaintiffs challenging Wisconsin election maps had legal standing to pursue a lawsuit against partisan redistricting.
The judges in the N.C. case agreed that plaintiffs led by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters had met the standard for legal standing.
The court has ordered lawyers on both sides of the congressional redistricting dispute to submit arguments by Friday. Those arguments should address whether legislators will have another chance to draw election maps. In the meantime, the court announced plans to pursue hiring a special master.