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Supreme Court blocks redrawing of North Carolina congressional map
Ruling puts lower court decision on hold
 
Published Thursday, January 18, 2018 8:00 pm
by Andrew Chung, Reuters

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked a lower court’s order for North Carolina to rework its congressional map because Republicans violated the Constitution by drawing electoral districts intended to maximize their party’s chances of winning.


The conservative-majority court granted a bid by Republican legislators in North Carolina to suspend the Jan. 9 order by a federal court panel in Greensboro that gave the Republican-controlled General Assembly until Jan. 24 to come up with a new map for U.S. House of Representatives districts.

Two liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, objected to the high court’s action.

“We are grateful that a bipartisan U.S. Supreme Court has overwhelmingly halted the lower court’s 11th hour attempt to intervene in election outcomes, restored certainty to voters, and ensured that, in the coming days, candidates for office can file in the least gerrymandered and most compact Congressional districts in modern state history,” N.C. Rep. David Lewis and Sen. Ralph Hise, chairs of their respective chambers’ redistricting committees, said in a joint statement.  

The Supreme Court’s decision to stay the order reduces the chance that the current district lines will be altered ahead of the November mid-term congressional elections. The court offered no reason for its decision.

The three-judge panel ruled that the Republican-drawn districts violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law by intentionally hobbling the electoral strength of non-Republican voters. Two of the three judges also said the plan ran afoul of the Constitution’s First Amendment by discriminating based on political belief and association.

Those judges on Tuesday refused to put the ruling on hold.

“This is an extremely disappointing decision, one that rewards an unconstitutionally elected Republican caucus and condemns voters to yet another election under unconstitutional districts,” North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Wayne Goodwin said. “For nearly a decade, North Carolina voters have suffered under the worst unconstitutional gerrymanders in the county – racial and now, partisan. Despite this decision, Democrats are committed to challenging Republicans across the state who have shown they are more interested in rigging our elections for their own partisan benefit than listening to their constituents.”

The maps were challenged in two lawsuits by more than two dozen Democratic voters, the state Democratic Party and other groups.
Under current North Carolina congressional boundaries, Republicans won 10 of the 13 House districts in 2016, despite getting just 53 percent of the statewide vote.

The Supreme Court is currently examining two other cases from Wisconsin and Maryland involving claims that electoral districts were manipulated to keep the majority party in power in a manner that violated voters’ constitutional rights. That practice is called partisan gerrymandering.

In the Wisconsin case, Democratic voters are challenging Republican-drawn legislative districts. In the Maryland case, Republicans are claiming Democratic lawmakers drew a congressional district in a way that would prevent a Republican candidate from winning.

The North Carolina dispute centers on a congressional redistricting plan adopted by the Republican-led legislature in 2016. The Republican lawmaker in charge of the plan said it was crafted to favor his party because he thinks “electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats.”

“But that is not a choice the Constitution allows legislative mapdrawers to make,” the lower court said in unanimously striking down the plan.


Additional reporting by Herbert L. White of The Charlotte Post.

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