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Supreme Court Steps Into Gerrymandering Mess

The racial, economical, and social makeup of a voting district will often determine which party or candidate will get the most votes from that district. But the boundaries of electoral constituencies are not set in stone, and the party in power will often manipulate those boundaries to its own benefit.

Known colloquially as gerrymandering, the altering of electoral districts does have its legal limits, and those limits are currently being testing by North Carolina lawmakers, who, after a trial court ruled the state's legislative map had been unconstitutionally gerrymandered based on race, challenged that court's ruling that special elections with new districts were required to fix November's results. And now the Supreme Court has delayed that special election until it can review the court's ruling.

Constitution v. Constitution

It's a bit of a complicated case, so some quick history might be in order. Last August a federal district court determined that the state redrew its legislative maps in 2011 based on race, packing black voters into a relatively small number of districts and thereby reducing the impact of those voters in the process. The court ruled the redistricting violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, and ordered the state to draw up new maps by mid-March of this year and hold a special election in the fall in any newly redrawn districts.

North Carolina appealed the decision to the Supreme Court and also requested the Court block the order for special elections, calling them "the most extreme and intrusive remedy possible: partial invalidation of an election and imposition of a special election that overrides multiple provisions of the North Carolina Constitution."

A Districting Deferred

The Supreme Court obliged. In a terse order handed down last week, the Court granted the state's request for a temporary stay of the redistricting and special elections, to "remain in effect pending this Court's action on the appeal." If the Supreme Court upholds the lower court's decision, the stay will expire and the order forcing North Carolina to redraw its electoral map and hold special elections will be reinstituted. If the Court sides with the state, the gerrymandered districts -- along with last year's election -- will stand.

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