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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