By Frank Taylor, Carolina Public Press. Carolina Public Press is an independent, in-depth and investigative nonprofit news service for North Carolina.
A three-judge panel issued an injunction late Monday blocking use of the current North Carolina congressional district map in the 2020 election.
Although not yet compelling the “coequal branch of government” to draw new maps, judges noted that legislators could proceed to do that on their own and thus avoid any disruption to the election schedule.
However, on Monday the judges also accepted the legislative district maps that lawmakers redrew in September after a previous ruling by the same panel that the existing maps demonstrated evidence of extreme partisan gerrymandering.
Judges OK with redrawing new districts quickly
As a result of Monday’s rulings, the General Assembly would only be faced with redrawing the districts for the U.S. House of Representatives in North Carolina if legislators accept the judges’ advice and exercise their “discretion” to draw maps right away.
Filing for congressional races is set to begin in December, and candidates cannot formally enter the race without knowing where the district lines will be drawn.
While the congressional maps litigation could proceed to a full hearing, the judges said they found strong evidence that on the merits of the case, the plaintiffs opposing the current maps were likely to win their case.
The judges found that it was preferable to risk disruption in the election schedule rather than allow elections to proceed with tainted maps but that the issue of disruption could be avoided through timely independent action by the legislature in crafting new congressional maps.
A question of district balance
Currently, the state’s congressional delegation is tilted 10-3 in favor of Republicans, despite a considerable registration advantage for Democrats voters.
The congressional map was last redrawn in 2016 after a previous ruling that earlier maps were racially gerrymandered. Previously, courts did not weigh in on the question of whether too much partisan gerrymandering was impermissible, the three-judge panel strongly took that position in its September ruling on the legislative districts.
In issuing the injunction, the judges noted that the questions raised by the congressional case mirror those already discussed before the state and federal courts.
In many respects, the issues are the same as those for the legislative districts that the panel struck down in September, the judges noted in their ruling issuing the injunction.
The plaintiffs in the current case previously asked the federal courts to throw out the state’s congressional districts for impermissible gerrymandering, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this summer that this question was not appropriate for federal courts, putting it in play for the state judges.
It was not immediately clear Monday evening how the Republican-controlled General Assembly would react to the decision on congressional maps.
However, Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, issued a statement applauding the judges’ action on the legislative maps: “We appreciate this court’s recognition that a historically transparent and bipartisan redistricting process complied with its order entirely.”