Breaking: Three-Judge Court Rules North Carolina Congressional Districts an Unconstitutional Partisan Gerrymander

In a case sure to be appealed to the United States Supreme Court, a three-judge federal court has struck North Carolina’s congressional districting as a unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. One judge partially dissented on some grounds, but agreed with the other two judges that the redistricting plan violated the Equal Protection Clause. The Curt also fast tracked a remedy in the case, giving the state a deadline to pass the plan and appointing a special master in case, as expected, the NC General Assembly resists.

The opinion is here.

The majority opinion by Judge Wynn is an unqualified victory for the plaintiffs, finding multiple grounds (including equal protection, the First Amendment, and the Elections Clause) for ruling that North Carolina’s plan is unconstitutional.

The result is not a big surprise given what North Carolina did here. After its earlier redistricting was declared a racial gerrymander, it came up with a new plan using only political data that it described as a partisan gerrymander on its own terms. It did this as a defense against a future racial gerrymandering claim. As the court explained at page 16, NC “Representative Lewis
said that he “propose[d] that [the Committee] draw the maps to give a partisan advantage
to 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats because [he] d[id] not believe it[ would be] possible
to draw a map with 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats.”  If there’s any case that could be a partisan gerrymander, it’s this one.

The Supreme Court is already considering two partisan gerrymandering cases, one from Wisconsin and one from Maryland. No doubt NC will appeal this case to the Supreme Court, which is likely to hold it in light of the decision in those cases (it would be too late, absent extraordinary briefing, to set the case for argument this term). It likely will be sent back to this court to reconsider in light of what the Court does.

But in the meantime the fight will be over the 2018 elections, and I expect NC may seek to get the Supreme Court to stop the fast tracking of redistricting changes in time for the 2018 elections. The Supreme Court could well agree to stay the district court proceedings, at least based on its recent track record.

This is a huge win for the plaintiffs but with an uncertain future at the Supreme Court.

[This post has been updated.]

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