After a four-day trial, the lawsuit of Common Cause v. Rucho has led to a possible change in North Carolina voting districts before the 2018 elections.
A three-judge panel from the Federal District Court in Greensboro announced on Thursday that they are looking into appointing a special master to help redraw nine North Carolina voting districts.
“The issue here is really saving democracy,” said Emmet Bondurant, an attorney representing Common Cause. “The only remedy is with the courts, and the remedy lies within the Constitution. [Gerrymandering] is unconstitutional, it should be stopped, and it should be stopped now.”
The nine districts involved include two Senate districts, one being in Guilford County and one in both Hoke and Cumberland counties. The other seven districts were House districts found in Wake County, Mecklenburg County and Guilford County. These nine were part of 28 districts drawn in 2011 which were being examined on the possibility of being unconstitutionally racial gerrymanders.
“Legislative leaders had an opportunity to fix their unconstitutional legislative maps,” said Ford Porter in a statement. Porter is a spokesman for Gov. Roy Cooper. “Instead, they dragged their feet, held sham hearings and passed new maps intended to rig elections in their favor. Today’s announcement that the court has appointed a Special Master who could redraw legislative districts is a positive step to ensuring fair elections in North Carolina.”
Though this announcement was not a final ruling, Judge Catherine Eagles informed attorneys that the court will be asking Nathaniel Persily, a law professor at Stanford University, to help with the redrawing of nine North Carolina districts. If Persily was found unfit, attorneys were given two days to recommend a new name.
“Similar to this same federal court order for a special election in North Carolina that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed, this unusual and vague order provides absolutely no legal or factual basis for objecting to the new maps, while also potentially delegating the legislature’s constitutional authority to draw districts to a lone professor in California with no accountability to North Carolinians,” said Republicans Sen. Ralph Hise and Rep. David Lewis in a joint statement. “Being provided only two days to respond to such a strange order that could seize a fundamental right from the people of North Carolina and hand it to a single person on the other side of the country is an outrageous and extraordinary violation of the principles of federalism and our state’s sovereignty.”
North Carolina Republicans now hold a supermajority in both the state House and Senate, despite the state having a Democratic governor. Some Democrats have interpreted the announcement as a win and look at the redrawing as an opportunity to win seats for their party in the upcoming 2018 election.
“This means that the court is tipping its hand; that it thinks there will be a need for them to draw new maps, which should create a more fair election landscape for 2018,” said Rep. Graig Meyer of District 50. “That is certainly something that, as a Democrat, I applaud both because it creates a fair environment for elections next year and because it will make more competitive election where I think Democrats will have a chance to win in areas where we’ve been gerrymandered out of power. This is big for our opportunity to break the majority in 2018.”
The U.S. Supreme Court found North Carolina’s mapping to be unconstitutional in August, 2016. The court found that the districts were drawn based on racial discrimination and a panel that included some U.S. District Court judges said that North Carolina’s GOP used race as “the predominant factor” in drawing the districts. In doing this, they directly violated the Voting Rights Act.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard a similar lawsuit, Gill v. Whitford, on Wisconsin’s gerrymandering earlier this month.