2018 Midterm Election: North Carolina Edition

Oops they did it again. A panel of three federal judge ruled that districts in North Carolina were unconstitutionally gerrymandered and must be redrawn before the November midterm elections just 70 days away.

In 2016, the federal court ruled that the 2011 legislative map was racially gerrymandered. The Republican dominated legislature passed a plan that essentially left the map nearly the same stating that they were motivated by politics, not race. It was appealed to the Supreme Court which tossed it back to the lower court based on their earlier ruling that those who bought a similar case over Wisconsin gerrymandering did not have legal standing. Now there is today’s ruling from the same panel that made no bones about the unconstitutionality of the map.

Judge James A. Wynn Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, writing Monday for a special three-judge district court panel, said plaintiffs did have standing under the decision in Wisconsin’s Gill v. Whitford, which he said reinforced the judges’ earlier views that the congressional districts were drawn with improper partisan goals.

He said the court was leaning against giving the North Carolina legislature another chance to draw the congressional districts.

“We continue to lament that North Carolina voters now have been deprived of a constitutional congressional districting plan — and, therefore, constitutional representation in Congress — for six years and three election cycles,” Wynn wrote. “To the extent allowing the General Assembly another opportunity to draw a remedial plan would further delay electing representatives under a constitutional districting plan, that delay weighs heavily against giving the General Assembly another such opportunity.”

He proposed several unusual ideas: appointing a special master to draw new districts, holding general elections without party primaries or even turning the November elections into a primary and holding the general election sometime before the new Congress convenes in January.

Wynn and his fellow judges called for immediate briefing from the parties about which remedy to pursue. [..]

Wynn said it should be clear that such partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional.

“A common thread runs through the restrictions on state election regulations imposed by Article I, the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clause: the Constitution does not allow elected officials to enact laws that distort the marketplace of political ideas so as to intentionally favor certain political beliefs, parties, or candidates and disfavor others,” he wrote.

“Although North Carolina’s loud and proud admission that legislators drew districts for partisan advantage is unusual, the practice is universal when politicians are in charge,” said Kathay Feng, Common Cause national redistricting director. “Until we prohibit partisan gerrymandering, a true representative democracy will remain out of reach, and the voices of all Americans will continue to be silent.”

Currently the Supreme Court has eight justices. If they take the case as an emergency and deadlocks 4 – 4, North Carolina would have new districts for 2018 and help Democrats take back the House.

What happens next could be quite a story.