A historic year of progress in the fight to end gerrymandering in NC

RALEIGH – A three-judge panel in the Wake County Superior Court today ruled in the case of Harper v. Lewis that newly drawn congressional maps can be used for the 2020 election.

In October, the court issued an injunction blocking use of North Carolina’s gerrymandered congressional districts in the 2020 election. In response, the legislature drew new congressional boundaries last month. And after a ruling by the court today, those newly drawn maps can be used in next year’s election.

The same panel of Superior Court judges made a unanimous ruling this September in the case of Common Cause v. Lewis, striking down partisan gerrymandering of the state’s legislative districts and ordered them to be redrawn. That case marked the first time that a state court ruled partisan gerrymandering violates the North Carolina Constitution.

The following is a statement from Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause NC, which was lead plaintiff in the Common Cause v. Lewis challenge against gerrymandered legislative districts:

“This has been a historic year in the fight for fair voting maps in North Carolina, with landmark legal victories against gerrymandering of our state’s legislative and congressional districts. The court has made clear that partisan gerrymandering is illegal in North Carolina and it will not be tolerated.

“Moving forward, we hope these wins for democracy will serve as a lasting foundation to build a redistricting process that puts people above politics. We’ve seen time and again that partisan politicians simply cannot be relied upon to draw nonpartisan voting districts. Instead, our state should take redistricting power out of the hands of the legislature and entrust it with an impartial citizens commission that will draw our state’s voting maps free from partisan politics, with full transparency and robust public input.”

Background on this year’s court cases against NC partisan gerrymandering

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of Common Cause v. Rucho, challenging partisan gerrymandering of North Carolina’s congressional districts in federal court. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in the case, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing in the majority opinion that the federal courts were not able to settle the issue of partisan gerrymandering. But in that same ruling, Roberts pointed to the state courts as appropriate venues to address partisan gerrymandering.

That’s precisely what happened in the landmark case of Common Cause v. Lewis, in which a three-judge panel of the Wake County Superior Court issued a unanimous decision in September, ruling that partisan gerrymandering violates the North Carolina Constitution and ordering new NC House and NC Senate maps drawn following strict nonpartisan criteria.

After that historic victory against gerrymandering, a group of North Carolina voters, including Common Cause NC member Becky Harper, filed Harper v. Lewis in state court to challenge partisan gerrymandering of North Carolina’s congressional map, which prompted a redraw of the state’s U.S. House districts.

Overwhelming public support for nonpartisan redistricting reform

A half-dozen bills have been filed in this year’s legislative session that would establish nonpartisan redistricting, including several with strong bipartisan support. However, none of the proposals have been brought to a vote in the General Assembly. That’s despite overwhelming public support for reform, as shown by a survey in October from Public Policy Polling that found 62% of North Carolina voters in favor of nonpartisan redistricting, with just 9% opposed.

Meanwhile, over 300 locally elected officials from 140 towns and cities across the state have joined the call for nonpartisan redistricting, as has a coalition of more than 100 North Carolina business leaders.

Common Cause NC is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy.