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North Carolina v. Covington

North Carolina v. Covington is an appeal by state lawmakers to the U.S. Supreme Court that sought review of a federal three-judge panel’s ruling that twenty-eight of North Carolina’s legislative districts are unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The lawmakers simultaneously pursued an appeal to vacate the panel’s remedial order calling for special elections in 2017. The Supreme Court affirmed in part the lower court’s order, upholding changes made to remedy racial gerrymandering but reversing the changes made to two state districts redrawn by the legislature in other parts of the state.

Published: June 28, 2018

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

Case Background

In a lawsuit filed in May 2015, 31 North Carolina residents sued the state, leaders of the legislative redistricting committee, and the state board of elections, contending that Republican lawmakers had packed African-American voters into nine Senate districts and 19 House districts in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  According to the plaintiffs, Republican lawmakers relied too heavily on race when drawing the districts in 2011, unnecessarily increasing the percentage of black voters in districts where black voters had been successfully electing their candidates of choice in years prior.

In August 2016, the panel unanimously agreed with the plaintiffs that lawmakers designed the 2011 state map to weaken the influence of black voters.

That November, state lawmakers appealed the panel’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the legislature drew the districts to avoid violating the Voting Rights Act. While the lawmakers’ appeal to the Supreme Court was pending, the panel ordered the General Assembly to create a remedial state house map by March 15, 2017 and to hold a special election in fall 2017 using the new districts.

The state petitioned the Supreme Court to stay the district court’s remedy pending the resolution of the state’s earlier appeal. The Court granted the stay, issuing an order temporarily blocking the lower court’s remedial order and putting the 2017 special elections on hold.

On June 5, 2017, the Supreme Court summarily affirmed the decision of the trial court. The Court also vacated the order staying implementation of a remedy and 2017 special elections, with instructions to the trial court to re-weigh the balance of equities in determining whether special elections in 2017 were appropriate.

After holding a hearing about the remedial process, the court ordered the North Carolina legislature to adopt new legislative maps. On September 7, 2017, the state filed its remedial plans. The plaintiffs filed objections to twelve of the newly drawn districts in the state’s remedial plans, claiming that four districts are still racial gerrymanders and several districts violate the state constitution.

After holding a hearing on the remedial plans, the court appointed a special master to prepare a report and redraw two senate districts and seven house districts that the court believed were legally infirm.

On January 19, 2018 the court approved the state’s 2017 plan as modified by the special master’s recommended plans. The legislative defendants filed an emergency motion to stay the district court’s decision to enjoin the special master’s recommendations to the 2017 plan pending Supreme Court review. The court has yet to rule on the motion to stay. The legislative defendants filed their notice of appeal to the Supreme Court on January 23.  

On February 6, the Supreme Court granted the application for stay in part and denied it in part, staying the remedial map’s revisions to state legislative districts in Wake and Mecklenburg County pending appeal but allowing other changes to go into effect.

On June 28, the Supreme Court affirmed in part the lower court’s order, upholding changes made to remedy racial gerrymandering but reversing the changes made to two state districts redrawn by the legislature in other parts of the state. 


District Court

U.S. Supreme Court

District Court (on remand) 

U.S. Supreme Court 

Jurisdictional Stage