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NC Republicans satisfied with map ruling; another suit soon

June 27, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Republicans were satisfied and election advocacy groups were disappointed by a key U.S. Supreme Court ruling Thursday in a case from their state that says federal courts aren’t the proper venue to consider partisan gerrymandering claims.

The 5-4 decision reversed a lower court ruling that voided state congressional districts due to excessive partisan bias. It means district lines drawn by the GOP-controlled General Assembly in 2016 for North Carolina’s 13 congressional seats will remain in place for the 2020 elections.

“It is not the judicial branch’s responsibility to determine the (political) winners and losers,” GOP state Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County told reporters after the decision. “This is a complete vindication of our state and or the fair and open process that we ran.” Lewis is one of the mapmakers who was sued in the case.

The lower court had agreed with Common Cause, the state Democratic Party and voters who sued. A three-judge panel declared in early 2018 that “invidious partisanship” in the plan violated the U.S. Constitution. Partisanship influenced the mapmaking so much that it took power away from voters to choose their favored candidate, the judges found.

The ruling is “a bitter disappointment,” state Common Cause Executive Director Bob Phillips said in a release. “And make no mistake about it, there are victims of this decision. The victims are those North Carolinians who do not have a voice in Washington because a narrow majority of the U.S. Supreme Court has condoned an abusive partisan gerrymander.”

But Phillips said he’s hopeful about other efforts to curb partisan gerrymandering, particularly with another pending lawsuit in state court. The case, filed by Common Cause, state Democrats and others, goes to trial in mid-July. It challenges state House and Senate legislative districts by alleging they violate the state constitution.

Phillips and others point out that Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion didn’t prevent gerrymandering concerns from being addressed by the states. Roberts wrote that other states have passed laws and constitutional amendments setting map standards or ordering maps be created by special commissions. Efforts to pass such commissions in North Carolina have made little headway over the past decade.

When the maps were drawn in February 2016, GOP mapmakers approved criteria that stated one of their goals was to retain their 10-3 advantage within the congressional delegation. At the time Lewis told colleagues in public he proposed a 10-3 map “because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

Lewis said later he was joking. On Thursday he said such comments were bracketed around other comments he made highlighting how well the map was made, with very few voting precincts and counties split between districts.

The Supreme Court previously allowed the map to be used in the 2018 elections while the case was pending. Republicans currently hold eight of the 13 seats. Three are held by Democrats. Two vacancies will be filled in special elections later this year.

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