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Panel of Federal Judges Rule North Carolina Congressional Map Unconstitutionally Gerrymandered

For Immediate Release: January 9, 2018

Contact: Craig M. Sandberg, 833.726.3237, craig@sandberglaw.com

Greensboro, NC – A district court of three federal judges (28 U.S.C. § 2284(a)) threw out North Carolina's congressional map today, declaring it unconstitutionally gerrymandered and demanding that the Republican-controlled General Assembly redraw district lines before this year’s midterm elections. The panel included Hon. James A. Wynn, Jr. (United States Circuit Judge), Hon. William L. Osteen, Jr. (Chief United States District Judge), and Hon. W. Earl Britt (Senior United States District Judge).

Section 2284(a) provides, "A district court of three judges shall be convened when otherwise required by Act of Congress, or when an action is filed challenging the constitutionality of the apportionment of congressional districts or the apportionment of any statewide legislative body." 28 U.S.C. § 2284.

The ruling was the first time that a federal court had blocked a congressional map because the judges believed it to be a partisan gerrymander. “We agree with plaintiffs that a wealth of evidence proves the General Assembly’s intent to ‘subordinate’ the interests of non-Republican voters and ‘entrench’ Republican domination of the state’s congressional delegation,” Judge James A. Wynn Jr. wrote in a 191-page opinion. Later in the ruling, the Court added that the judges believed that Republicans in the Legislature had been “motivated by invidious partisan intent.” "Rather than seeking to advance any democratic or constitutional interest, the state legislator responsible for drawing the 2016 Plan said he drew the map to advantage Republican candidates because he 'think[s] electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats,'" Wynn wrote. "But that is not a choice the Constitution allows legislative map drawers to make."

The panel directed the North Carolina legislature be given until January 24 to adopt a remedial plan and directed that any such plan be filed with the court by January 29. However, in light of upcoming election deadlines, the Court ordered that the parties propose special masters to redraw the map in the event the court rejects any legislatively enacted remedial map.

Some of the panel's thoughts were foreseen by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Ariz. State Legis. v. Ariz. Indep. Redistricting Comm'n, 135 S. Ct. 2652 (2015). In a 5–4 decision authored by Justice Ginsburg, the Court concluded that independent redistricting was a constitutionally permissible exercise of the people’s “legislative power.” Importantly, the Court's opinion began by stating clearly that “Partisan gerrymanders are incompatible with democratic principles.” Ariz. State Legis., 135 S. Ct. at 2658 (citing and quoting Vieth v. Jubelirer, 541 U.S. 267, 292 (2004) (internal quotes omitted). The Court describes that political redistricting as a “problem” that “subordinate[s] adherents of one political party and entrench[es] a rival party in power.” Ariz. State Legis., 135 S. Ct. at 2658. The Court points out that this practice contravenes “the core principle of republican government” "that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.” Ariz. State Legis., 135 S. Ct. at 2677 (citing and quoting Berman, Managing Gerrymandering, 83 Texas L. Rev. 781 (2005)).

To view a PDF of the Court's Order, please click here: League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho.

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