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Common Cause v. Lewis

Common Cause, the North Carolina Democratic Party, and a group of North Carolina voters have filed a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s state legislative maps on partisan gerrymandering grounds.

Last Updated: April 16, 2020
Published: September 23, 2019

Case Background

Note: The Bren­nan Center is not a parti­cipant in this case.

Common Cause, the North Caro­lina Demo­cratic Party, and a group of voters filed a lawsuit on Novem­ber 13, 2018, in North Caro­lina Super­ior Court, chal­len­ging the state’s legis­lat­ive maps on partisan gerry­man­der­ing grounds. The legis­lature drew these maps in 2017 after the federal courts—in Coving­ton v. North Caro­linathrew out the prior plans for racial gerry­man­der­ing. Accord­ing to the plaintiffs, the Repub­lican legis­lat­ive lead­er­ship created the 2017 plans to entrench last­ing Repub­lican major­it­ies. The plaintiffs conten­ded that the new plans viol­ate several provi­sions of North Caro­lin­a’s consti­tu­tion: the Equal Protec­tion Clause; the Free Elec­tions Clause; and the Free­dom of Speech and Free­dom of Assembly Clauses.

The plaintiffs asked the court to declare the maps uncon­sti­tu­tional under the North Caro­lina Consti­tu­tion and to block the state from using the current maps in any further elec­tions. The plaintiffs also asked the court to order the state to adopt new plans that comply with the North Caro­lina Consti­tu­tion.

On Decem­ber 14, 2018, the defend­ants removed the case from state court to a federal district court. On Janu­ary 2, 2019, the district court ordered the case be sent back to the state court but denied the plaintiffs fees, a decision both parties appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Trial in state court took place from July 15 to 26. 

On Septem­ber 3, 2019, the state court struck down the maps as uncon­sti­tu­tional and enjoined their use in future elec­tions. The court ordered the North Caro­lina General Assembly to redraw the maps by Septem­ber 19. On Octo­ber 28, the court approved the remedial maps drawn by the General Assembly. On Novem­ber 1, 2019, the plaintiffs filed a request for exped­ited appeal with the North Caro­lina Supreme Court, arguing that two county group­ings in the remedial state house plan approved by the Wake County Super­ior Court remained gerry­mandered. On Novem­ber 15, the North Caro­lina Supreme Court declined to exped­ite. The plaintiffs then dropped their appeal. The remedial maps will now govern the 2020 elec­tions.

On Novem­ber 18, 2019, the plaintiffs filed a motion with the Fourth Circuit to dismiss the defend­ants’ appeal in light of the state court’s ruling. The Fourth Circuit held oral argu­ment on this motion and the pending appeals on Janu­ary 31, 2020.

On April 16, 2020, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decisions to remand the case to state court and to deny the plaintiffs fees.

A single judge was appoin­ted to over­see remain­ing disputes over the confid­en­ti­al­ity of the files of Thomas Hofeller, a Repub­lican redis­trict­ing consult­ant who assisted the 2017 gerry­mander. On Novem­ber 4, over 100,000 files pertain­ing to Hofeller’s redis­trict­ing work in states across the coun­try were released from a protect­ive order.


Wake County Super­ior Court

Merits and Remedial Phase

Hofeller Files

District Court (removal)

Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (appeal of remand and cross appeal of costs)

North Caro­lina Supreme Court