The NC Supreme Court opinion on redistricting describes ways the legislature can tell whether its plans are constitutional

The state Supreme Court on Monday issued its opinion in the big redistricting case decided this month against Republicans in the legislature and for those challenging GOP redistricting plans.

The court order issued February 4 gave the legislature until Friday to the redraw congressional, state House and state Senate districts the majority said were unconstitutional in systematically weakening Democratic votes. The Supreme Court’s three Republicans dissented.

The majority opinion does not spell out what measurements should be used to determine whether the redrawn maps pass constitutional muster. It mentions five different metrics redistricting experts use, and says some combination of those should work.

Mathematicians and redistricting experts at the January redistricting trial used an array of methods to show that the plans Republicans drew were outliers skewed to favor Republican candidates, and which computers could rarely, if ever reproduce.

The congressional plan would have elected Republican candidates in at least 10 of the state’s 14 districts. The state House and Senate plans would have given Republicans, already the majority in both chambers, a good chance of winning durable supermajorities that would withstand shifts in political tides, the experts testified. With supermajorities, the legislature can easily negate governors’ vetoes with party-line votes.

The court majority agreed with the League of Conservation Voters, Common Cause, and a group of voters backed by the National Redistricting Foundation that the gerrymandered plans violate the state constitution.

“Partisan gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts violates the free elections clause, the equal protection clause, the free speech clause, and the freedom of assembly clause, and the principle of democratic and political equality that reflects the spirits and intent of our Declaration of Rights,” the opinion says.

Chief Justice Paul Newby wrote the dissent, which Justices Phil Berger Jr. and Tamara Barringer joined.

Newby wrote that the court majority made policy with the opinion.

“They wade into the political waters by mandating their approach to redistricting,” Newby wrote. “They change the time-honored meaning of various portions of our constitution by inserting their interpretation to reach their desired outcome.”

The majority wrote that they were not making policy but are “protecting the constitutional rights of the people of North Carolina from overreach by the General Assembly. Rather than passively deferring to the legislature, our responsibility is to determine whether challenged legislative acts, although presumed constitutional, encumber the constitutional rights of the people of our state.”

The trial court will determine whether the legislature’s redrawn maps are constitutional. It is appointing a special master to help in that determination.

The trial court can accept the legislature’s redrawn plans or choose different maps.

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The NC Supreme Court opinion on redistricting describes ways the legislature can tell whether its plans are constitutional