WASHINGTON — A North Carolina court on Wednesday dismissed a Republican-drawn map of the state’s 14 congressional districts and replaced its own version, the second time in less than two weeks that a state court has invalidated a Republican House card as unconstitutionally partisan.
The new map, drawn by a nonpartisan panel of four redistricting experts, appeared to divide North Carolina’s congressional districts roughly evenly between Republicans and Democrats, in a state where voters are split evenly along partisan lines. This gives each party six relatively safe House seats and makes the other two winnable on either side.
The Republican-drawn map that was rejected would have given the GOP six safe seats and the Democrats four, leaving the remaining four as draws.
Voting rights groups and Democrats had argued to block the latest Republican card, saying it illegally favored Republicans. A three-judge panel from Raleigh State Superior Court agreed. He ruled Wednesday that the latest map failed to meet standards for fairness set by the state Supreme Court on Feb. 4, when that court struck down the original map drawn by the Republican-controlled state legislature.
In the Feb. 4 ruling, the state Supreme Court said Republican maps of congressional districts and state Legislature seats violated a host of provisions of the state Constitution that guarantee freedom of expression, free elections and equal protection. Any valid card, the judges said, should satisfy “a combination” of five statistical measures of partisan fairness developed by political scientists over the past few decades.
What to know about redistricting and gerrymandering
On Wednesday, the Raleigh court approved a Republican-drawn map of the State House, which all parties in the redistricting lawsuit had supported, and a new Republican map of the state Senate, to which the plaintiffs in the lawsuit s were opposed.
Both sides said they would appeal aspects of the Superior Court’s decision to the state Supreme Court. State House Speaker Tom Moore called the rejection of the Republican map “nothing egregious,” and Republicans have asked the state’s highest court to suspend use of the new map for the time being. . The plaintiffs — Common Cause, the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, and a group of Democratic voters in the state — all appealed endorsements of the cards from the State House or the state Senate, or both.
Wednesday’s ruling further reinforced the growing importance of state courts in redistricting battles since 2019, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared partisan gerrymandering a political issue beyond its jurisdiction. In recent weeks, the Ohio State Supreme Court has twice rejected maps of the state legislature drawn by a Republican-leaning redistricting commission.
Also on Wednesday, the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court stamped its mark on that state’s congressional map, settling a partisan dispute over House seat boundaries by selecting a map drawn by a University of Stanford.
Stanford’s 17-seat House map, which was proposed by Democratic Party supporters who filed a redistricting lawsuit last year, appears to give Republicans nine fairly secure seats and Democrats eight, according to an analysis by the Nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. Each party currently holds nine seats in the House, but Pennsylvania will lose one seat next year due to a reallocation after the 2020 census.
How Redistricting Works in the United States
What is redistricting? It is the redrawing of the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts. This happens every 10 years, after the census, to reflect population changes.
On Tuesday, two Republican candidates for House seats in Pennsylvania asked a federal court to bar the state court from selecting a map, arguing that the federal Constitution reserves that duty exclusively to legislatures. It has been suggested that Republicans in North Carolina could make a similar call.
Federal courts have rejected such arguments in the past. But in recent months, four conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices have hinted at supporting a new argument, called the independent state legislature doctrine, that state legislatures have full authority over election laws. in the absence of congressional action.
Any further delays in approving district maps in Pennsylvania or North Carolina could spell trouble for an election calendar that’s already been delayed by litigation. Pennsylvania has extended the deadline for submitting nominations for the primary election until mid-May due to the dispute over congressional districts, and Republicans in the state Legislature asked last week to a court to block the State House and Senate maps drawn by legislative redistribution. Committee.
In North Carolina, the filing of nominations for the primary elections is expected to resume on Thursday, but further challenges to one of the cards could delay that.
There is precedent, said Gerry Cohen, a longtime expert on the North Carolina legislature and politics who serves on the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh. “In 2016, we had a separate congressional primary later in the year” due to a map dispute, he said. “So I guess anything is possible.”