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Circuit Court Again Rules NC Unconstitutionally Gerrymandered Its Congressional Map

In May 2017, the Supreme Court struck down congressional boundaries in North Carolina, finding they were drawn to pack more black voters into specific congressional districts. Eight months later, the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the state to again redraw its congressional map, ruling the effort to set the current boundaries was "motivated by invidious partisan intent."

The Supreme Court asked the Fourth Circuit to revisit that decision (based on new precedent regarding whether a voter has standing to bring a gerrymandering claim), but the court came to the same conclusion: Voters in North Carolina provided sufficient "evidence establishing that each of their districts is 'packed or cracked' and, as a result, that their votes 'carry less weight than [they] would carry in another, hypothetical district.'"

So it's either back to the congressional map drawing board for North Carolina lawmakers, or back to the Supreme Court.

Distorting the Marketplace of Political Ideas

At first blush, it might seem like politics as usual. The party in power redraws voting district lines to make sure it stays in power. But this is not 'Nam -- there are rules. As the Fourth Circuit said, "the Constitution does not allow elected officials to enact laws that distort the marketplace of political ideas so as to intentionally favor certain political beliefs, parties, or candidates and disfavor others."

Specifically, Republican representative and chair of the state's House redistricting committee David Lewis revealed the GOP's intent in a January meeting: "I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats. So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country." And that was a step too far for the Fourth Circuit:

The General Assembly expressly directed the legislators and consultant responsible for drawing the 2016 Plan to rely on "political data" -- that is, past election results specifying whether, and to what extent, particular voting precincts had favored Republican or Democratic candidates, and therefore were likely to do so in the future -- to draw a districting plan that would ensure Republican candidates would prevail in the vast majority of the State's congressional districts, and would continue to do so in future elections.

Districting, Elections, and the Supreme Court

Even with the most recent ruling, North Carolina had already relied on the rejected congressional map to decide candidates in upcoming elections, and the unconstitutional districts will probably still be in place when November rolls around. State legislators could appeal this opinion to the Supreme Court, delaying any redistricting efforts.

North Carolina could also try redrawing its district lines before the election, but whether that effort would be an earnest attempt to provide equal access and representation, or another political "pack and crack" ploy, would be difficult to determine until long after votes are cast.

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