The North Carolina Supreme Court on Friday blocked the state’s new Republican-drawn congressional and legislative maps, ruling 4-3 that they violate the state constitution.
“We conclude that the congressional and legislative maps enacted … are unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt under the free elections clause, the equal protection clause, the free speech clause, and the freedom of assembly clause of the North Carolina Constitution,” the court wrote in an order.
“To comply with the limitations contained in the North Carolina Constitution which are applicable to redistricting plans, the General Assembly must not diminish or dilute any individual’s vote on the basis of partisan affiliation,” the order continued.
“When, on the basis of partisanship, the General Assembly enacts a districting plan that diminishes or dilutes a voter’s opportunity to aggregate with likeminded voters to elect a governing majority-that is, when a districting plan systematically makes it harder for one group of voters to elect a governing majority than another group of voters of equal size-the General Assembly unconstitutionally infringes upon that voter’s fundamental right to vote.”
North Carolina’s new congressional map was passed by its GOP-controlled legislature in November and would likely have helped Republicans gain at least two seats in the state’s delegation.
The court gave the legislature two weeks to draw new maps and submit them to a lower court, which will select a remedial plan.
While the court’s four Democrats supported the ruling, the three Republican justices dissented, writing that it “violates separation of powers by effectively placing responsibility for redistricting with the judicial branch, not the legislative branch as expressly provided in our constitution.”
“By choosing to hold that partisan gerrymandering violates the North Carolina Constitution and by devising its own remedies, there appears to be no limit to this Court’s power,” Chief Justice Paul Newby wrote for the dissenters.
The decision is the latest in a string of positive redistricting developments for Democrats. Courts recently struck down GOP-drawn maps in Ohio and Alabama (the Alabama decision is now before the US Supreme Court), while the Democratic-leaning Pennsylvania Supreme Court just took over the state’s process and New York state enacted a map that could net the party several seats in November.
Democrats and voting rights advocates hailed the decision.
“A healthy democracy requires free elections and the NC Supreme Court is right to order a redraw of unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said in a statement. “More work remains and any legislative redraw must reflect the full intent of this decision.”
Allison Riggs, co-executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and one of the lawyers challenging the maps, said in a statement that the ruling was “an unequivocal win for North Carolina’s Black voters who were most harmed by this extreme partisan gerrymander.”
Republican state Sen. Ralph Hise, co-chair of North Carolina’s Senate Redistricting Committee, reacted to the decision by criticizing the court itself.
“Democratic judges, lawyers, and activists have worked in concert to transform the Supreme Court into a policymaking body to impose their political ideas,” he said in a statement.
“This perverse precedent, once set, will be nearly impossible to unwind, as monied interests line up to buy their own justices to set law favorable to them. I’m certain Democrats will come to regret it,” Hise added later.
This story has been updated with additional details Friday.