Voters challenging North Carolina’s 2016 congressional map as a partisan gerrymander won a major victory late Tuesday afternoon when a panel of three federal judges ruled in a 205-page opinion that the plan “discriminated, and will continue to discriminate, against voters who support non-Republican candidates” and did not advance “any democratic, constitutional, or public interest.”
The litigation over the 2016 map arose after a different three-judge panel in February of that year struck down the state’s 2011 congressional map because it contained unconstitutional racial gerrymanders that diluted the electoral voice of the state’s large African-American community.
When the North Carolina legislature convened to redraw the map, lawmakers brazenly declared that they would replace their earlier unconstitutional racial gerrymander with a partisan gerrymander, going so far as to adopt written redistricting criteria requiring any replacement plan attempt to maintain the 10–3 split in favor of Republicans. When Democrats challenged the map as unfair and unbalanced given the state’s highly competitive statewide politics, House redistricting chair, Rep. David Lewis, stated that political gerrymanders were “not against the law” and that “we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats." A subsequent Brennan Center study identified the North Carolina plan as one of the worst partisan gerrymanders of the decade.
North Carolina voters led by the Common Cause of North Carolina and the League of Women Voters challenged the maps in two suits that were jointly tried before the three-judge panel in October 2017.
Tuesday’s decision found that the 2016 congressional map was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander on First Amendment, Equal Protection, and Article I grounds and blocked the state from using the plan for future elections.
The court directed that the North Carolina legislature be given until January 24 to adopt a remedial plan and directed that any such plan be filed with the court by January 29. Because of upcoming election deadlines, the court also ordered that the parties propose special masters to redraw the map in the event the court rejects any legislatively enacted remedial map.