RALEIGH – A three-judge panel has unanimously ruled in Wake County Superior Court that the Republican-led partisan gerrymanders of state House and Senate maps, specifically in urban areas, violates the North Carolina Constitution and has ordered that new maps be drawn for the 2020 elections immediately.
“This court ... concludes that the 2017 enacted House and Senate Maps are significantly tainted in that they unconstitutionally deprive every citizen of the right to elections for members of the (N.C.) General Assembly conducted freely and honestly to ascertain, fairly and truthfully, the will of the people,” the Sept. 3 Common Cause vs Lewis ruling stated. “… the 2017 enacted maps, as drawn, do not permit voters to freely choose their representative, but rather representatives are choosing voters based upon sophisticated partisan sorting.”
The panel determined the 2017 maps, drawn by the N.C. General Assembly after the 2011 maps were ruled to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, violated the N.C. Constitution’s free elections clause and freedom of speech and freedom of assembly clauses.
“If unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering is not checked and balanced by judicial oversight, legislators elected under one partisan gerrymander will enact new gerrymanders after each decennial census, entrenching themselves in power anew decade after decade,” the Sept. 3 ruling states.
The map drawing doesn’t specifically affect the High Country, as the districts in question were located in and around Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte, Wilmington, Fayeteville, Greensboro and other areas where Democratic voting blocks were separated into multiple districts.
However, one aspect of the ruling that could impact the region is that if needed, the court retains the power to potentially delay the 2020 N.C. primaries, which are scheduled to take place on Tuesday, March 3, 2020.
Common Cause, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, said it aims to hold government accountable and called the decision a historic ruling for the people of N.C.
“The court has made clear that partisan gerrymandering violates our state’s constitution and is unacceptable,” stated Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause N.C., on Sept. 3. “Thanks to the court’s landmark decision, politicians in Raleigh will no longer be able to rig our elections through partisan gerrymandering.”
Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) said in a statement that he will follow the court’s instruction and move forward with adoption of a nonpartisan map.
“We disagree with the court’s ruling as it contradicts the (N.C.) Constitution and binding legal precedent, but we intend to respect the court’s decision and finally put this divisive battle behind us,” Berger stated on Sept. 3. “Nearly a decade of relentless litigation has strained the legitimacy of this state’s institutions, and the relationship between its leaders, to the breaking point. It’s time to move on.”
Rep. David Lewis (R-Dunn), the senior chairman of the House Selection Committee on Redistricting, and his defense argued that partisan gerrymandering was constitutional. The local case comes just over two months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision along party lines in Common Cause vs. Rucho. The U.S. Supreme Court opinion stated that while it did not condone partisan gerrymandering, it was beyond its scope to make a ruling, declaring it a state issue.
As a remedy, the court rules that the N.C. General Assembly is to conduct a new map-drawing process by Sept. 18, two weeks after the ruling was released. And the court says the NCGA must conduct the process “in full public view” due to what it says was a secretive process in 2017.
Special maps drawn in 2017 by court-appointed map drawer Nathaniel Persily did not remedy all the unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering, the Sept. 3 ruling found. Persily’s maps left the High Country the same in the N.C. House, but altered the N.C. Senate maps for the region, resulting in a double-bunking of Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Blowing Rock) and Sen. Shirley Randleman (R-Wilkesboro). Ballard won the primary over Randleman and then re-election in 2018.