North Carolina Republican legislative leaders used partisan intent with surgical precision to carefully craft maps that unconstitutionally diluted Democrats’ collective voting strength, according to a three-judge panel ruling striking down the 2017 House and Senate maps.
“In other words, the Court finds that in many election environments, it is the carefully crafted maps, and not the will of the voters, that dictate the election outcomes in a significant number of legislative districts and, ultimately, the majority control of the General Assembly,” the 357-page document states.
Lawmakers have two weeks, until Sept. 18, to draw new House and Senate districts in “full public view” without the use of election data. They must use traditional redistricting criteria, may not use the unconstitutional maps as a starting point and have to seek court approval if they want to retain anyone other than legislative employees to help with the drafting of the remedial maps, according to the ruling.
The Common Cause v. Lewis ruling was unanimous. Republican legislative leaders released a statement criticizing the ruling, but said they would not appeal and planned to move forward with drawing new maps as ordered.
“This case is the next step in Eric Holder’s drive to use judges to create a Democratic majority,” states the release from Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s Office. “Thwarted at the U.S. Supreme Court, Holder has turned to state courts with Democratic majorities to, in his own words, ‘favorably position Democrats’ to game the redistricting process.”
Holder is a former U.S. Attorney General who chairs the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.
“We disagree with the court’s ruling as it contradicts the Constitution and binding legal precedent, but we intend to respect the court’s decision and finally put this divisive battle behind us,” the release continues. “Nearly a decade of relentless litigation has strained the legitimacy of this state’s institutions, and the relationship between its leaders, to the breaking point. It’s time to move on.”
The court, on its own motion, denied staying the remedial process pending any appeal. It will also use a referee to help evaluate the legislature’s remedial maps and draw new ones if necessary.
“The conclusions of this Court today reflect the unanimous and best efforts of the undersigned trial judges — each hailing from different geographic regions and each with differing ideological and political outlooks — to apply core constitutional principles to this complex and divisive topic,” the document states.
The judges who presided in the case are registered Democrats Alma Hinton and Paul Ridgeway and registered Republican Joseph Crosswhite.
They outlined a “dizzying succession of litigation” voters have been subjected to since 2011 over North Carolina’s legislative and Congressional districts in state and federal courts. Today, they wrote, marks the third time the same trial court has entered judgment. Two times, the North Carolina Supreme Court has spoken. Eight times, the United States Supreme Court has ruled.
Partisan intent predominated in the drawing of the 2017 legislative maps, and the court said it violated these parts of the state Constitution: the equal protection clause, the right to associate, to speak freely through voting, and to participate in free elections.
It is not the province of the Court to pick political winners or losers,” the ruling states. “It is, however, most certainly the province of the Court to ensure that ‘future elections’ in the ‘courts of public opinion’ are ones that freely and truthfully express the will of the People. All elections shall be free — without that guarantee, there is no remedy or relief at all.”
The House districts that must be redrawn are in the following counties: Alamance, Anson-Union, Brunswick-New Hanover, Buncombe, Cabarrus-Davie-Montgomery-Richmond-Rowan-Stanly (except House District 66), Cleveland-Gaston, Columbus-Pender-Robeson, Cumberland, Duplin-Onslow, Franklin-Nash, Forsyth-Yadkin, Guilford (except House districts 57, parts of 59, 61 and 62), Lenoir-Pitt and Mecklenburg.
The Senate districts that must be redrawn are in the following counties: Alamance-Guilford-Randolph (except Senate Districts 24, parts of 27, and all of 28), Bladen-Brunswick-New Hanover-Pender, Buncombe-Henderson-Transylvania, Davie-Forsyth, Duplin-Harnett-Johnston-Lee-Nash-Sampson, Franklin-Wake and Mecklenburg.
Common Cause North Carolina, a named plaintiff in the lawsuit, called the ruling a landmark victory.
“This is a historic victory for the people of North Carolina,” said Executive Director Bob Phillips. “The court has made clear that partisan gerrymandering violates our state’s constitution and is unacceptable. Thanks to the court’s landmark decision, politicians in Raleigh will no longer be able to rig our elections through partisan gerrymandering.
“What’s crucial now is ensuring that the legislature fully complies with the court’s order and draws new legislative districts in a timely fashion, with full transparency and robust public input, absolutely free from gerrymandering.”
The ruling is the first from a state court since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year it would officially be leaving partisan gerrymandering limits up to individual states. Lawmakers tried to argue at the time that partisan gerrymandering should be an issue decided by lawmakers, not the judicial branch.
North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin was pleased with the ruling from the Wake County Superior Court.
“From targeting people based on their race to dividing them based on their political beliefs, Republicans for a decade have rigged our state and silenced voters to cling desperately onto power,” he wrote in a statement. “North Carolina Democrats will never stop advocating for people’s right to make their voices heard at the ballot box, and we look forward to taking back control of the General Assembly using fair maps next November.”
Read the full ruling below. Make sure to check NC Policy Watch tomorrow for a full update.