A federal court on Tuesday found North Carolina’s congressional map to be an unconstitutional “partisan” gerrymander devised by the state’s Republican lawmakers — and ordered the state to submit a unique map by the discontinue of the month.
The court gave the state until 5 p.m. Jan. 29 to submit a unique map, but also began a process for appointing a special master who would draw a map whether the state is unable to finish so successfully.
The ruling comes as the Supreme Court is considering how partisan gerrymanders are considered by courts — in cases out of Wisconsin and Maryland — and it is expected that North Carolina lawmakers will inquire to attach the ruling on hold until the Wisconsin case, which was heard by the justices in October 2017, is resolved.
The opportunity for delay, however, will soon sprint up against February filing deadlines for the North Carolina congressional races.
On Tuesday, the three-judge panel considering the case, in an opinion by Circuit Judge James Wynn, ruled that the North Carolina’s map violated Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and the Election Clause of Article I of the structure. Judge William Britt joined Wynn’s opinion. Judge William Osteen Jr. wrote separately, but ultimately agreed that, under current Supreme Court case law, the state’s blueprint was unconstitutional — although he did not agree that it violated the First Amendment.
Although the 205-page ruling went into considerable detail approximately the blueprint, the claims, and the law, the underlying facts were blunt: After the original redistricting blueprint was struck down as a racial gerrymander, lawmakers asked the person they had re-drawing the map “to remedy the racial gerrymander and “to employ political data … in drawing the remedial blueprint.”
Rep. David Lewis — the senior chair of the state House’s redistricting committee — “acknowledge[d] freely that this would be a political gerrymander,” which he claimed was “not against the law,” the court famous.
In considering the Equal Protection claim, the court reviewed expert testimony in the case at length to consider the claim. One expert for the plaintiffs computer generated 1,000 maps using “the non-partisan criteria included in the Committee’s Adopted Criteria: population equality, contiguity, minimizing county and VTD splits, and maximizing compactness.”
The expert “found that not anything of the 1,000 plans yielded a congressional delegation of 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats — the outcome that would contain occurred under the 2016 blueprint — when he evaluated the sample.” (The expert, Dr. Jowei Chen, went on to consider two other 1,000-map simulations to control for different situations — with the same result that not anything had as partisan a result as the actual map passed by the state.)
The court concluded that “the General Assembly intended to discriminate against voters who supported or were likely to support non-Republican candidates” and that “the 2016 blueprint dilutes the votes of non-Republican voters and entrenches Republican control of the state’s congressional delegation.”
In ruling the map unconstitutional under the First Amendment, the court looked to several areas of First Amendment law — including viewpoint discrimination (“prohibit[ing] the government from favoring or disfavoring specific viewpoints”), electoral speech dilution (addressing “the First Amendment’s prohibition on laws that disfavor a specific group or lesson, course of speakers”), retaliation (“prohibiti[ng] … burdening or penalizing individuals for engaging in protected speech”), and election regulations (having “the potential to burden political speech or organization”).
“Against these many, multifaceted lines of precedent, the First Amendment’s applicability to partisan gerrymandering is manifest,” Wynn wrote, before concluding the North Carolina blueprint violated the amendment.
The court also found that the blueprint violated provisions of Article I of the structure — clauses detailing that the “House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen . . . by the People” and the Elections Clause, which states that state legislatures contain the authority to set the “times, places and manner of holding elections,” subject to congressional alterations.
The court found the blueprint “exceeds the General Assembly’s delegated authority under the Elections Clause” because, in section, it “represents an impermissible effort to ‘dictate electoral outcomes’ and ‘disfavor a lesson, course of candidates.'”
“[T]he 2016 blueprint’s demonstrated partisan favoritism,” the court concluded, “simply is not authorized by the Elections Clause.”
Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & homosexual Journalists organization award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at [email protected].
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