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Judge rules against gerrymandering in Greensboro

The Greensboro City Council's districts were unconstitutionally drawn by the N.C. General Assembly.

A federal judge ruled that the redistricting of Greensboro's City Council by the N.C. General Assembly was unconstitutional last Monday. 

The district court judge, Catherine Eagles, ruled in favor of the city of Greensboro, saying the redistricting was unconstitutional under the one person, one vote principle.

The one person, one vote principle requires all votes to carry equal weight — and is violated when a state places voters into electoral districts of materially different population size for no legitimate reason, according to Eagles' ruling.

Allison Riggs, a senior attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said the General Assembly populated districts unevenly for a Republican advantage.

“(Eagles) was looking at the facts of the case, that it’s illegitimate when some people’s votes carry more weight than others,” Riggs said. “It’s illegitimate to do that for partisan advantage.”

Eagles also ruled against a law the General Assembly passed in 2015, which prohibited the citizens of Greensboro from participating in municipal initiatives or referendums.

Greensboro was the only municipality in North Carolina that restricted its citizens to seek an initiative or referendum.

Eagles ruled against this law on the basis that it bans Greensboro’s residents' rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Riggs said that in the past six years, the General Assembly has tried to pass numerous redistricting plans that have been invalidated in courts.

“In courts, they’re not doing a good job in complying with federal law — they need to be listening to the courts when they're saying, 'This is not right, you’re doing it wrong.'” Riggs said. “They need to be more respectful of these court rulings.”

Jen Jones, spokesperson for Democracy NC, said in an email North Carolina has a history of legislators drawing districts to intentionally weaken the power of voters.

“This latest effort to preempt and undermine the will of Greensboro voters reveals that lawmakers will do almost anything to retain power,” she said.

Emily Seawell, a legal extern at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said citizens need to hold their legislators accountable, especially in upcoming redistricting plans.

“It’s up to the people to make sure their voices are heard in the process and to pressure the General Assembly to do what is right,” she said.

Jones said that it’s time for voters to pick their politicians, and not the other way around, in order to restore faith in democracy.

“Democracy North Carolina has joined with a coalition of organizations and thousands of voters from across the state who who are calling on lawmakers to call for a public hearing regarding redistricting reform legislation, HB 200 and SB 554, proposed earlier this session,” Jones said.

Riggs said after six years, North Carolina legislators have not learned from their mistakes when redrawing districts, and that voters should get more involved.

“We will keep hoping that they learn that they learn their lesson, but at the end of the day it may require voters to say no more,” Riggs said.

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