A lawsuit backed by the National Redistricting Foundation was filed in North Carolina state court last week, claiming the current congressional district lines are gerrymandered according to political party and are in violation of the state constitution.
This lawsuit comes after a 2017 Supreme Court ruling that N.C. congressional districts were racially gerrymandered and a June 2019 Supreme Court ruling that federal courts had no jurisdiction in the state’s partisan gerrymandering case.
In September, a three-judge panel ruled the State Senate and State House district lines unconstitutional because of partisan gerrymandering.
The suit requests that the court order the 2016 congressional district lines unusable and enforce the drawing of new, compliant district lines before the 2020 elections.
It cites the Free Elections Clause, Equal Protection Clause, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly clauses of the N.C. Constitution as violated on behalf of the plaintiffs and all Democrats in North Carolina.
The 14 plaintiffs named in the suit are residents from each of the 13 districts, with two from District 11. The defendants include members of the State House and State Senate redistricting committees and members of the State Board of Elections.
Diane Pozefsky, a professor of computer science at UNC who taught a gerrymandering seminar last year, said she thinks the notion of manipulating the districts to stay in power is a problem.
“It is inappropriate — whether or not it is illegal seems to be in doubt,” she said.
Pozefsky also said it is possible the state court rules similar to the Supreme Court in June, essentially deciding this issue isn’t their responsibility. However, she said she thinks that would be an unlikely outcome.
“It seems irrational to me that they would say that, but I don’t put anything behind politicians or courts anymore,” Pozefsky said.
Marina Jenkins, litigation director for the National Redistricting Foundation, the non-profit behind the suit, said she thinks there is a good chance the suit will be successful and the district lines will be redrawn before the 2020 elections.
She said the foundation learned on Wednesday the same three-judge panel that ruled on the state legislative case will rule on this upcoming case.
“They ruled unanimously on the state legislative case, and if anything, the facts are even more egregious with respect to the congressional case,” Jenkins said. “The evidence of inappropriate partisan bias baked into the system is just plain on its face with respect to the congressional map.”
Though the panel of judges is the same, any ruling would not affect the ruling last month to redistrict the state maps.
David Lewis, a Republican member of the State House, when passing the 2016 plan, proposed drawing "the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”
Jenkins also said the court indicated in the state legislative case a willingness to move filing deadlines and the primary date, and there is a historical precedent to do so, though she doesn’t expect it will be needed in order to enact new maps for 2020.
The summer Supreme Court decision may not be an indication of the upcoming suit’s outcome because it wasn’t a ruling in favor of the district lines — it simply delegated the regulation of the districts to the states, instead of federal courts.
“The decision by the Supreme Court didn’t say it was OK, it said they weren’t going to touch it,” Pozefsky said.
Jenkins said the Supreme Court’s ruling felt like willful ignorance. She said she thought it was an abdication of duty, and the court was capable of handling that kind of decision.
“An organization like ours, we sort of know that we are sledding uphill,” Jenkins said. “We are committed to fair maps, we are committed to seeing this forward and taking whatever paths that we can take.”
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