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Chaos in Carolina: Judges strike down U.S. House map now used in Tar Heel State

Ruling could leave November 6 election in confusion unless U.S. Supreme Court intervenes

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

RALEIGH (CFP) — A panel of three federal judges has once again struck down North Carolina’s U.S. House map as being unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans, ordering that the lines be redrawn just 70 days before the November election and three months after primaries were held using the current lines.

The ruling could sow significant confusion into congressional races unless the U.S. Supreme Court steps in to stay the ruling, something it did with a previous ruling earlier this year. It also has implications for partisan control of the House if a redraw of the map creates more districts where Democrats can compete.

State House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, both Republicans, announced they will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, saying in a statement that implementing the ruling “would irreparably disrupt campaigns from both major parties across the state that have been organizing, raising money and trying to win over voters.”

But Bob Phillips, the executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, one of the plaintiffs who challenged the map, hailed the court’s decision.

“We’re pleased that a North Carolina federal court has once again stated what we have long believed, that extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional,” he said in a statement. “This is a historic win for voters, and a significant step towards finally ending gerrymandering.”
In the majority opinion for the three-judge panel, Judge James Wynn of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that by favoring Republicans, the redistricting plan passed by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature amounted to “invidious partisanship” that “runs contrary to the Constitution’s vesting of the power to elect Representatives in ‘the People.'”

Although North Carolina is fairly evenly divided in statewide and presidential elections, Republicans hold a 10-to-3 advantage in the House delegation. Two of those Democrats are African Americans who represent majority-minority districts drawn to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

In January, the same three-judge panel ruled against the state’s map, the first time a federal court had ever stuck down a congressional map for being gerrymandered to favor one party.

But in June, the Supreme Court vacated the order and returned the case to the judges in Greensboro to reconsider their ruling in light of its own ruling in a different case.

In their August 27 decision, the judges said their reconsideration of the case did not change their view that the map was unconstitutional.

Since the first ruling was vacated by the Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy has retired and his replacement hasn’t been confirmed, leaving the court with a 4-to-4 split between conservative and liberal factions. If North Carolina legislators can’t persuade five justices to stay the ruling, the lower court decision will stand.

The three-judge panel declined to let November’s election go forward with the current map pending appeal, despite the fact that primaries had already been held in those districts.

Wynn suggested that the general election could proceed without primaries or that the state could hold new primaries on November 6 and then conduct the general election later.

The judges also indicated they would bring in a special master to draw a new map rather than returning it to legislators to redraw.

Attorneys in the case were given until August 31 to submit proposals for a remedial plan to comply with the ruling.

Wynn, who previously served on the North Carolina Supreme Court, was appointed to the appeals court by President Barack Obama and was joined in his majority opinion by U.S. District Court Judge William Britt, a senior-status judge appointed by President Jimmy Carter.

The third judge on the panel, U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen Jr., was appointed by President George W. Bush; he dissented from part of the majority’s reasoning in ruling, although he concurred with the remedy of redrawing congressional lines.

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, sent a tweet accusing Wynn of being an “activist” judge who was “waging a personal, partisan war on North Carolina Republicans.”

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