By Cash Michaels –
A unanimous three-judge panel on September 3, 2019 struck down North Carolina’s legislative voting districts drawn in 2017, deeming them unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders.
The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Common Cause of NC against the state legislature. Twenty-eight North Carolina legislative districts are affected in the House of Representatives, and 21 in the state Senate.
The three judges—Alma Hinton, Paul Ridgeway, and Joseph Crosswhite—include two Democrats and one Republican. In addition to striking down the current maps—the third set written since the Republicans took over the legislature in 2011—the panel ordered new maps be drawn for the 2020 elections. They also ruled that if a mapmaker outside of the legislature is hired, that he or she be approved by the court. Lawmakers have until Sept. 18 to submit new maps.
The court ordered that lawmakers may not use prior-election or any partisan data in redrawing the maps, and that mapmaking process must be done in “full public view”—that is, that all aspects of the process must be open to the public. A special referee will be appointed by the court to oversee the process, who could be assigned to redraw districts if the Court rejects the new legislature-drawn map.
They also agreed in the 357-page ruling that the voting districts violated the state Constitution’s guarantees of Free Elections, Equal Protection, Freedom of Speech, and Freedom of Assembly.
And most importantly, the three-judge panel is not allowing any appeal to delay the process they’ve outlined. In their order, the court “denies a stay of the remedial process.”
Reaction from state lawmakers was swift.
“This is a big step in making sure that every NC’s vote matters, regardless of where you live,” tweeted House Minority Leader Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake). “Now the North Carolina General Assembly has until Sept. 18 to draw maps that are fair. It is time for us to come together to draw new maps that represent the people of this state and allow for every voice to be heard.”
“An appeal is likely,” said Sen. Jeff Jackson, Democrat, “but if granted it would go to the state Supreme Court, as this is a matter under the state constitution.”
Irving Joyner, professor of law at North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham, said, “The decision rendered by the three-judge panel in Common Cause, et al. v. David Lewis, et al. is a tremendous victory for the people of North Carolina. Among other things, this Court ruled that the North Carolina constitution provides more protections for our citizens than does the federal constitution and statutes in voting rights matters. The General Assembly had already admitted that it drew legislative lines in order to obtain an advantage over Democrats and bragged about doing it. Now, our State Court has determined that their actions were illegal and that they lied about it to the federal courts. This is a huge legal conclusion that will drastically change and enhance the voting rights protections that people should enjoy in this state. The sad things is that this General Assembly has done so many evil things during the past eight years that it will require another decade in order for a properly elected General Assembly to repair the harms that have been inflicted in this State.”
Joyner, who is also chair of the NCNAACP Legal Redress Committee, continued, “This decision will be appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court, but the General Assembly is now compelled to draw new legislative lines before the 2020 elections are conducted and this Court has declared that its order will not be stayed. We applaud Common Cause and the other Plaintiffs for pressing forward with this challenge.”
Professor Joyner added one more perspective specifically regarding African Americans.
“This decision, in conjunction with the NC NAACP’s victory in the McCrory racial motivation and redistricting cases, also supports the proposition that the North Carolina Constitution gives more protections to racial minorities, who reside in this state, than does the federal constitution. This is the meaning that African Americans like Bishop John Walker Hood and Abraham Galloway intended when they fought for and inserted an Equal Protection Clause in the 1865 North Carolina Constitution.