A three-judge federal panel unanimously ruled that North Carolina’s most recent redistricting plan constituted an invidious* partisan gerrymander that violated the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Election Clause (Art. I., Secs. 2 and 4) of the U.S. Constitution. It is the first time that a federal court has invalidated congressional districts purely on the basis of a partisan gerrymander.
“Partisan gerrymandering runs contrary to numerous fundamental democratic principles and individual rights enshrined in the Constitution,” wrote Circuit Judge James Wynn, a Barack Obama appointee, for the panel. “A partisan gerrymander that is intended to and likely has the effect of entrenching a political party in power undermines the ability of voters to effect change when they see legislative action as infringing on their rights.”
The state is expected to seek a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court, before which a similar case from Wisconsin is pending. Another partisan gerrymandering case from Maryland will be heard later this spring. (The justices will also consider hearing cases from Texas involving two of its congressional and nine of its state House districts, but neither case claims partisan gerrymandering.). The impact this ruling could have on Texas is far from certain, because of the lack of firm standards for identifying when a map has gone too far and the particularly great lengths the North Carolina General Assembly went to ensure maximum Republican representation.
“Legislative Defendants do not dispute that the General Assembly intended for the 2016 Plan to favor supporters of Republican candidates and disfavor supporters of non-Republican candidates,” Wynn wrote. “Nor could they.”
North Carolina’s congressional map is considered by several redistricting experts as one of the most extreme examples of partisan gerrymandering in the country. Statistical analyses conducted by expert witnesses in this case placed it at or near the top of all redistricting plans in all states since 1972 for its partisan skew. It is the state’s second congressional map used this decade. Both were constructed to yield similar results.
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