Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
politics

U.S. Supreme Court Halts Redrawing of North Carolina Voting Map

The U.S. Supreme Court blocked a ruling that would force North Carolina to redraw its congressional voting map to give Republicans less of a partisan advantage.

The high court order Thursday keeps intact, for now, district lines that gave Republicans 10 of the 13 House seats in the 2016 election. The party got 53 percent of the overall congressional vote in North Carolina. Democrats say a fairer map would produce something closer to parity.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

The order is likely to last until the Supreme Court decides a similar case argued in October that could put new limits on partisan gerrymandering. A ruling in that case overturning a Republican-drawn legislative map of Wisconsin would be a good sign for Democrats’ chances in North Carolina, and possibly mean a new map in time for the November election.

A three-judge panel struck down the North Carolina map, saying it violated three constitutional provisions. The panel said lawmakers were “motivated by invidious partisan intent” and that the map “perfectly achieved the General Assembly’s partisan objectives.”

The Jan. 9 ruling gave the General Assembly until Jan. 24 to craft a new map. The candidate filing period is scheduled to start Feb. 12 in North Carolina.

Republican lawmakers told the Supreme Court that the lower court “has used an entirely novel legal theory to hopelessly disrupt North Carolina’s upcoming legislative elections.”

The lower court said the map violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause and First Amendment, both of which are at issue in the Wisconsin case argued in October. The panel also said the North Carolina map runs afoul of the Constitution’s elections clause, which guarantees “the people” the right to select their representatives.

Opponents, including the North Carolina Democratic Party, urged the Supreme Court to let the lower court order remain in effect. Halting the drawing of new district lines “would tend to legitimize the flagrant partisan abuses of the North Carolina legislature,” the group said.

The group pointed to a comment by North Carolina State Representative David Lewis, a Republican who helped lead the redistricting effort. Lewis said at a 2016 hearing that he supported drawing the map with 10 Republican-heavy districts “because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats.”

North Carolina’s voting districts have been a near-constant source of litigation in recent decades. The Supreme Court last year said an earlier map relied too heavily on race in fashioning two congressional districts.

The Supreme Court is also considering a narrower partisan gerrymandering case in its current term. In that case, Maryland Republicans are challenging a single, Democratic-drawn congressional district.

The case is Rucho v. Common Cause, 17A745.

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