All eyes now turn to North Carolina gerrymandering case
RALEIGH – On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court released opinions in two partisan gerrymandering cases, one from Wisconsin and another from Maryland, sending the respective cases back to lower courts on procedural grounds without issuing decisive rulings on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering.
All eyes now turn to North Carolina, as the U.S. Supreme Court will likely take up the case of Common Cause v. Rucho challenging partisan gerrymandering in the Tar Heel State.
In January, a federal district court handed down a landmark decision in Common Cause v. Rucho, ruling that the legislature’s extreme gerrymandering of the state’s congressional districts violated the constitutional rights of North Carolina voters. The ultimate fate of Common Cause v. Rucho now rests with the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The procedural issues that prevented a clear ruling in the Wisconsin and Maryland gerrymandering challenges today do not affect our case in North Carolina,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina. “We continue to be confident that given the overwhelming evidence in our case, the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately uphold the federal district court’s landmark decision in Common Cause v. Rucho that found partisan gerrymandering to be unconstitutional.”
Phillips added, “We must end gerrymandering to ensure all voters have a voice in our democracy.”
Background on Common Cause v. Rucho:
In 2016, a federal court ruled that the Republican-controlled NC legislature had unconstitutionally gerrymandered two of the state’s 13 congressional districts along racial lines and ordered them to be redrawn.
Republican legislative leaders responded by claiming they would craft a new congressional map by ignoring race entirely, and instead draw a blatant partisan gerrymander, as Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) stated publicly during a redistricting committee meeting in February of 2016.
“We want to make clear that we … are going to use political data in drawing this map,” Lewis said at that time. “It is to gain partisan advantage on the map. I want that criteria to be clearly stated and understood.”
That blatant gerrymander by the legislature prompted Common Cause to file suit in August 2016 arguing that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, an argument that the federal court agreed with in its ruling in January of this year. The U.S. Supreme Court then issued a stay in that case pending an appeal. The high court may now take up Common Cause v. Rucho, which could be the pivotal case that strikes down partisan gerrymandering.
In addition to fighting gerrymandering in the courts, Common Cause has been a longtime advocate for legislation that would establish nonpartisan redistricting in North Carolina.
House Bill 200 would take redistricting power out of the hands of legislators and give it to an independent body, which in turn would draw districts free from partisan politics. While the measure has broad support in the NC House with 39 bipartisan co-sponsors, it has not yet been given a hearing or a vote in that chamber.
Over 290 civic leaders from 140 towns and cities across North Carolina have signed a petition calling on the legislature to pass independent redistricting reform. And more than 100 North Carolina business owners have launched a coalition calling for an end to gerrymandering.