North Carolina Supreme Court strikes down GOP congressional map

The state legislature has until Feb. 18 to redraw its map

A gerrymandering activist holds a sign on the Supreme Court steps in 2018.   (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
A gerrymandering activist holds a sign on the Supreme Court steps in 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted February 4, 2022 at 7:21pm

North Carolina’s Supreme Court on Friday ordered the state to draw a new congressional map after finding it unfairly favored Republican candidates.

The 4-3 ruling requires the GOP-controlled legislature to redraw the map with a seat breakdown closer to the state’s overall voting results. With the ruling, North Carolina joins Ohio in having its congressional map overturned by a court over partisan gerrymandering allegations.

“[T]he General Assembly must not diminish or dilute any individual’s right to vote on the basis of partisan affiliation,” the decision said.

Advocates in the North Carolina case who challenged the map argued that Republicans would likely win 10 or 11 of the state’s 14 newly drawn congressional seats — in a state former President Donald Trump won by 1 percentage point in 2020.

Friday's ruling did not order particular districts to be drawn. Instead, it mandated that the state use a statistical analysis showing that the district breakdown under the new lines would more closely resemble the state’s overall electoral results.

The legislature has until Feb. 18 to draw new maps, ahead of primary elections set for May 17.

Zach Schauf, an attorney for the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, one of the groups challenging the map, argued the state legislature’s map would ensure a Republican majority even if Democrats received the most votes.

“It is the systematic destruction of majority rule,” Schauf said during oral arguments in the case last month. “And that, by the way, is also the test we think this court and the General Assembly should apply going forward: That the party that wins more votes should have at least a fighting chance to win most of the seats.”

Phil Strach, an attorney for the Republican lawmakers, argued the state had no standard for what constituted an unfair partisan gerrymander.

“If there’s a line between what’s permissible or impermissible, and something is therefore extreme or not extreme, I don’t believe we can even get to the question you’re asking unless the court can provide that line and then decide whether the maps that were passed actually cross that line,” Strach said.

Friday's decision reversed a lower court panel’s ruling that found the courts did not have the ability to intervene in the drawing of congressional district lines under North Carolina's Constitution.

Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., called the decision “a victory for free and fair elections.”

“The NC Supreme Court recognized these legislative maps are an unconstitutional gerrymander that will disenfranchise voters. We deserve to be governed by representatives elected by competitive, democratic elections,” Adams said on Twitter.

Similar gerrymandering claims prevailed years earlier in North Carolina courts, resulting in a new district map for the 2020 election. Litigants in Pennsylvania also won on state court gerrymandering claims in 2018, resulting in a redraw of the state’s map.

Experts expect more state court litigation over political gerrymandering this cycle after the success in both states and a 2019 Supreme Court case, Rucho v. Common Cause, which held that federal courts would not hear political gerrymandering claims.