(Updated with N.C House speaker’s quote and plans to appeal)
A North Carolina court on Wednesday modified state lawmakers’ second attempt at drawing new congressional district boundaries, finding that their redrawn map still unfairly favored Republicans and violated the state constitution.
The trial court decision followed a hurried two weeks of redrawing the lines. It will be revisited even faster, as state legislative leaders filed a same-day appeal and motion to stay the decision to meet a deadline of Wednesday at 5 p.m.
“The trial court’s decision to impose a map drawn by anyone other than the legislature is simply unconstitutional and an affront to every North Carolina voter whose representation would be determined by unelected, partisan activists,” state House Speaker Tim Moore (R) said in a written statement.
The court adopted its modified map only for the 2022 congressional elections, meaning the state will be in for another redistricting cycle before the 2024 elections, if Wednesday’s decision survives the appeal.
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The North Carolina Supreme Court on Feb. 4 struck down the congressional and state House and Senate maps the legislature adopted in November. The high court found that the maps unconstitutionally disadvantaged Democratic voters and gave Republicans a heavy advantage—both in state legislative races and in contests for the state’s 14 congressional seats.
The state legislature and two voter groups, including the NC League of Conservation Voters, submitted remedial congressional maps to the Wake County Superior Court on Feb. 18 for consideration.
The trial court—following recommendations of special masters appointed to advise on the litigation—adopted a revised version of the GOP-led legislature’s redrawn congressional map and approved its redrawn state House and Senate map. Plaintiffs groups including Common Cause and the NC League of Conservation Voters on Wednesday filed appeals and motions to stay the trial court decision regarding the state legislative maps, while voicing support for the court’s congressional map.
The court-adopted map “achieves the partisan fairness and ‘substantially equal voting power’ required by the Supreme Court of North Carolina without diluting votes under the Voting Rights Act,” the special masters wrote in their recommendation to the trial court.
The interim 14-district map creates seven districts that would have voted for Joe Biden and seven districts that would have voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
The two most competitive districts, and perhaps the only ones, are the 13th District in the metropolitan Raleigh area, and the northeastern 1st District, where Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D) isn’t seeking re-election. Biden would have won the 13th by 2 percentage points and the 1st by seven points, so both districts probably will be highly competitive in November.
A winner under the court-ordered map is first-term Democrat Kathy Manning, who had been targeted for defeat by Republicans. Her 6th District will be anchored in Guilford County in and around Greensboro and will have a Democratic lean, though not as overwhelmingly so as her current district.
As part of the tight timeline set by the North Carolina Supreme Court, candidate filing for the state’s May 17 primary elections begins Thursday.
The court’s assignment in picking remedial maps is “not a beauty contest” to see which map is best or “most constitutional,” the Republican legislative leaders said in a court filing Feb. 21.
Since the legislature has the legal duty to redraw election maps every 10 years, its maps should trump any other submissions so long as they are constitutional, they argued—pointing to statistical analyses such as mean-median differences and efficiency ratios to argue their maps were fair and constitutional.
The NC League of Conservation Voters disagreed, contending the remedial maps Republican lawmakers offered were still an egregious gerrymander to favor the GOP and disadvantage Democratic voters. In a state that’s split 50/50 between Republican and Democratic voters, the legislature’s November congressional map was estimated to give Republicans likely wins in 10 of 14 congressional seats, according to the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.
In the redrawn maps submitted to the court, legislative leaders again “set out to draw the most pro-Republican maps they could, so long as they could also say that they achieved particular scores on (carefully chosen) metrics,” the NC League of Conservation Voters said in a court filing.
With assistance from Greg Giroux
To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Marr in Atlanta at firstname.lastname@example.org