‘Now—finally—the era of Republican gerrymandering in the state is coming to an end…’
The injunctive ruling, on the heels of an earlier defeat in the U.S. Supreme Court, said left-wing plaintiffs had a strong likelihood of winning a state lawsuit, which claims that Republicans unlawfully manipulated district lines for partisan gain.
This is Democrat activists’ third such court challenge to the state’s congressional maps, led by former Attorney General Eric Holder and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, whose national “sue till blue” efforts are being bankrolled in part by the Soros family.
“For nearly a decade, Republicans have forced the people of North Carolina to vote in districts that were manipulated for their own partisan advantage,” Holder said in a news release. “Now—finally—the era of Republican gerrymandering in the state is coming to an end.”
The NDRC is targeting at least a dozen vulnerable or historically “red” states that swung for Trump in 2016, hoping to gain a decisive advantage for Democrats before the next round of decennial redistricting, which is scheduled for 2021.
The NDRC now has at its disposal all the resources of former President Barack Obama‘s campaign wing, Organizing for Action, which was incorporated into the umbrella of the partisan gerrymandering group earlier this year.
The GOP assumed control of the North Carolina legislature as part of a 2010 red wave following the party-line passage of controversial health-care legislation under Obama and congressional Democrats.
That year’s election resulted in Republicans at both state and national levels benefiting from one of the largest turnovers in modern history.
The last “official” legislative redistricting took place the following year, in 2011, although the NDRC and left-wing activists have since forced several states to redraw their congressional maps through the court system.
An Unsatisfactory Outcome
Democratic operatives already succeeded in forcing a 2016 redraw of North Carolina’s congressional maps by alleging racial gerrymandering. However, those new maps failed to produce a satisfactory result in the 2018 midterm election.
Now, opponents of the current congressional districts have latched on to a comment made by state Rep. David Lewis during the 2016 remapping to accuse legislators of partisan gerrymandering.
Lewis said at the time he was proposing a 10-3 map “because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”
Lewis said later he was joking. Nonetheless, Republican defendants have maintained that such strategies aren’t unlawful and have been common practice in the state, including during a lengthy span when Democrats dominated the legislature.
The latest court challenge was shot down at the federal level earlier this year, in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that determined all partisan redistricting matters fell to the purview of the state courts.
However, the decision gives North Carolina Democrats a better chance of winning their case given a left-wing tilt in the judiciary—including a new state Supreme Court justice, Anita Earls, who had been one of the litigants’ attorneys for the racial gerrymandering case.
In the current congressional lawsuit, the plaintiffs’ attorneys convinced the judges that evidence already accumulated from the failed federal litigation shows they are likely to succeed in the state case.
They also said the case was similar to a parallel lawsuit being pressed over state legislative districts, in which judges already forced the legislature to redraw the maps this year.
Tight Deadline for 2020
Democrats and nominally undeclared voters who sued on Sept. 27 sought a preliminary injunction, which prevents elections under the district lines, before any trial is held on their partisan gerrymandering claims.
On Monday, a panel of three Superior Court judges issued the injunction, saying “There is a substantial likelihood that plaintiffs will prevail on the merits of this action by showing beyond a reasonable doubt that the 2016 congressional districts are extreme partisan gerrymanders.”
Republican defendants in the lawsuit and three sitting GOP U.S. House members opposed the injunction request, which would take effect starting with the March 3 primary races.
They told the judges it was too late to make congressional map changes, since candidate filing begins in early December and that facts in the case were not settled.
Changes now, the GOP’s lawyers said, would result in voter confusion and extremely low turnout should the primary have to be delayed.
The judges gave no date by which a new map must be drawn, but suggested lawmakers could redraw them on their own quickly to ensure congressional primaries be held as scheduled. The State Board of Elections has said lines needed to be finalized by Dec. 15.
“The court respectfully urges the General Assembly to adopt an expeditious process,” the judges wrote.
The judges’ ruling, which could be appealed, would likely lead to a map with more competitive districts for the 2020 election—making it more difficult for national Republicans to retake control of the U.S. House.
Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican, said he wasn’t surprised by the congressional ruling given the recent decision involving the legislative districts, calling it judicial activism and a “flawed approach to redistricting law.”
Berger said he expected the legislature would likely redraw the congressional map, as it did recently with the state map, but that no decision has been made yet.
State Map Success
The state judges already forced North Carolina’s GOP-led legislature to submit new maps for its state-legislative districts following a process earlier this year that was widely praised for its transparency and bipartisanship.
State Republicans celebrated the panel’s ruling Monday in the separate state-map case, in which the judges upheld all of the changes that the General Assembly made to several dozen state House and Senate districts.
The plaintiffs who sued there had wanted a third-party expert to step in and rework 19 House districts.
“The bipartisan process that we used to create new districts was the most transparent in history,” said state Sen. Warren Daniel, who co-chairs the Senate Committee on Redistricting and Elections.
“Every effort was made to work together with our Democratic colleagues to create fair, nonpartisan, and court-compliant districts,” Daniel said. “I am glad that the court recognized that and approved the new Senate and House districts. I hope we can now finally put this long, absurd, partisan court battle behind us.”
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press.