A panel of three federal judges in North Carolina struck down North Carolina’s congressional map Tuesday, saying it went so far to benefit Republicans that it violated the U.S. Constitution.
by Sam Levine
(HuffPost) –The ruling is significant because the Supreme Court is considering a case out of Wisconsin that could allow it to articulate, for the first time, a new standard to determine when a gerrymander goes so far to benefit one party that it is unconstitutional. North Carolina’s congressional map is one of the worst cases of gerrymandering in the country, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, and gives Republicans an additional two to three seats in Congress. Republicans have a 10-3 advantage in the House of Representatives under the current map.
The plaintiffs in the case argued that the map, drawn by Republicans in 2016, violated the First Amendment and the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. They also said it violated Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution ― which says members of the House of Representatives shall be “chosen every second Year by the People of the several States” ― as well as the document’s Elections Clause, which says “the Times, Places, and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of choosing Senators.”
The court agreed that the plan violated the Constitution on all those counts, and barred the state from conducting another election under the current map. The current map was drawn after a three-judge panel said that a previous map, drawn in 2011, was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. The court gave the North Carolina General Assembly until Jan. 24 to draw a new map.
Kathay Feng, national redistricting director at the watchdog group Common Cause, told HuffPost the schedule ordered by the court meant North Carolina could see a new congressional map ahead of the 2018 election.
“Legislative Defendants also do not argue ― and have never argued ― that the 2016 Plan’s intentional disfavoring of supporters of non-Republican candidates advances any democratic, constitutional, or public interest. Nor could they. Neither the Supreme Court nor any lower court has recognized any such interest furthered by partisan gerrymandering,” U.S. Circuit Judge James Wynn, who was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit by President Barack Obama, wrote in the majority opinion. “Partisan gerrymandering runs contrary to numerous fundamental democratic principles and individual rights enshrined in the Constitution.”
Wynn was joined in his opinion by Senior U.S. District Judge William Earl Britt of the Eastern District of North Carolina, who was nominated to the bench by President Jimmy Carter. U.S. District Judge William Osteen Jr., who was nominated to the Middle District of North Carolina by President George W. Bush, wrote an opinion that partly concurred with the majority and partly dissented.