NC redistricting fight turns to state courts after ruling

Legal Events

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled federal courts aren’t the place to settle partisan gerrymandering disputes, opponents of North Carolina’s district maps are putting their hopes in state courts.

An election reform group, the state Democratic Party and voters will go to court in two weeks to try to persuade state judges that Republican-drawn General Assembly districts discriminate against Democrats based on their political beliefs and voting history.

What’s different in this case is that the plaintiffs — some of whom sued in federal court over the state’s congressional map, which ended with Thursday’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision against them — argue the House and Senate boundaries violate the state constitution, not the U.S. Constitution.

“We are confident that justice will prevail in the North Carolina courts,” said Bob Phillips with the North Carolina office of Common Cause, which is a plaintiff in both matters. “And we will continue to work with state lawmakers to reform our broken redistricting system that has left far too many without a voice in Raleigh.”?

Voting-rights advocates across the country have vowed to turn to state litigation after Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion addressing North Carolina and Maryland cases that federal courts have no authority to determine whether partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional.

Addressing complaints of partisan gerrymandering in state courts has already succeeded in Pennsylvania, where last year the state Supreme Court struck down congressional districts based on language in the Pennsylvania constitution that is similar to North Carolina’s. That ruling led to the court redrawing congressional lines. Democrats picked up four additional seats in 2018.

The pending partisan gerrymandering case filed in Wake County court marks at least the eighth lawsuit challenging North Carolina maps on the basis of racial and partisan bias since the current round of redistricting began in 2011. The lawsuits resulted in redrawing congressional lines in 2016 and legislative districts in 2017 — both to address racial bias. The state has spent millions of taxpayer dollars defending the maps.

Unlike the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, the state Supreme Court that would hear the appeal of the trial court’s decision has six registered Democrats and one Republican.

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