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N.C. Supreme Court rules new district maps unconstitutional after gerrymandering lawsuits

The North Carolina Supreme Court in the Law and Justice Building in Raleigh, N.C., is pictured on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020.

The N.C. Supreme Court ruled that the state’s new congressional and legislative district maps were unconstitutional on Feb. 4. This ruling follows allegations of partisan gerrymandering and racial vote dilution.

"A healthy democracy requires free elections and the NC Supreme Court is right to order a redraw of unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement. “More work remains, and any legislative redraw must reflect the full intent of this decision.”

The state Supreme Court ruled 4-3 against the redrawn maps, concluding the maps violated the free elections clause, the equal protection clause, the free speech clause and the right of assembly clause of the North Carolina Constitution.

N.C. House Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Caswell, Orange, said the ruling is a monumental victory.

“The order really sets a precedent that says it will never be okay again to do partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina, and that you have to take into account racially-polarized voting as well,” he said.

All three Republican justices — Chief Justice Paul Newby, Justice Phil Berger and Justice Tamara Barringer — dissented.

In his dissenting opinion, Newby said the decision of the state Supreme Court oversteps its judicial powers.

“I dissent from the decision of the Court which violates separation of powers by effectively placing responsibility for redistricting with the judicial branch, not the legislative branch as expressly provided in our constitution,” Newby said.

N.C. Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, said she was disappointed in Newby as the chief justice.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” she said. “I think he has made good decisions, and I always hope for bipartisanship when things are so obvious. He is the leader there, so I was hoping that he would come on board.”

Insko, who is retiring at the end of her term in December, also said she is a full-hearted supporter of the ruling.

"Every citizen, every registered voter has the same right to vote," she said. "Their vote should carry an equal weight to the extent that is possible.”

The N.C. General Assembly must submit new districting plans by Feb. 18 to the trial court, which will then make a decision by noon on Feb. 23, one day before candidate filing for the 2022 primary elections will resume. Candidate filing was put on hold in early December following the lawsuit over the congressional maps.

All other parties involved in the case will also be allowed to submit their own proposed districting plans by Feb. 18 and can provide comments on maps submitted by 5 p.m. on Feb. 21.

“I am hoping (the plaintiffs) will submit maps that will have people who did it independently from the General Assembly and see what they come up with,” Insko said. “I think that would be helpful.”

The primary election on May 17 will still occur as scheduled. The elections were previously pushed back from the original date of March 8 due to the legal battle over the state's congressional maps.

N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein said in a Feb. 4 tweet that the Supreme Court’s ruling is fantastic news for voters and for the health of democracy. 

“Our (government) must be of, by & for the people, not of, by & for one political party,” Stein wrote. “That's why the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around. Partisan gerrymandering is offensive to democracy; it's also contrary to our fundamental constitutional rights.”

Meyer said that although this ruling is a victory, more work needs to be done to protect voters.

“I also think that if we really want to ensure the best and most fair redistricting process, we still need to proceed with a constitutional amendment that ensures we have an independent redistricting process going forward and that it is not left up to politicians to draw maps at all,” Meyer said.


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