Wednesday, September 04, 2019

State judges rule that gerrymandered N.C. state legislature district maps must be redrawn before 2020 elections

A three-judge panel of a state court ruled yesterday that North Carolina's state legislature districting maps unfairly favor Republicans and must be redrawn before the 2020 elections. "The maps were drawn in 2017 to replace previous maps, drawn in 2011, that had also been ruled unconstitutional. Both sets of maps were drawn by North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature," Will Doran reports for The News & Observer in Raleigh.

The decision underscores the power of state constitutions, courts and legislators in drawing political maps, especially since the U.S. Supreme Court punted on partisan gerrymandering cases in June.

The three judges, two Democrats and one Republican, agreed that the state Supreme Court has long believed that the government is based on the will of the people, whose will is expressed by the ballot, Doran reports. That perspective helped the judges decide that the maps violated the state constitution because "It is the carefully crafted maps, and not the will of the voters, that dictate the election outcomes in a significant number of legislative districts and, ultimately, the majority control of the General Assembly," the judges wrote in the 357-page ruling.

The decision will apparently stand, since Republican Senate leader Phil Berger said he won't appeal and will start drawing new maps, Doran reports. "We disagree with the court’s ruling as it contradicts the Constitution and binding legal precedent, but we intend to respect the court’s decision and finally put this divisive battle behind us," Berger said in a statement. "Nearly a decade of relentless litigation has strained the legitimacy of this state’s institutions, and the relationship between its leaders, to the breaking point. It’s time to move on."

Judges gave the legislature until Sept. 18 to draw new maps, and said that, though the lines can be drawn to keep incumbents from having to face each other, no other political data may be considered. If lawmakers can't come up with new maps in time, the judges said lawmakers might reschedule 2020 state legislature elections, Doran reports.

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