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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, ChickenFriedPolitics.com 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.”

U.S. Supreme Court lets congressional maps stand in Texas, North Carolina

Rulings may leave current maps will be in place until after reapportionment in 2021

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Republican legislators in Texas and North Carolina have both dodged a bullet after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to invalidate congressional maps in both states that lower courts had struck down as illegally gerrymandered.

In the Texas case, the justices rejected a claim that state legislators impermissibly used race to draw electoral maps. In the North Carolina case, they vacated a lower court decision holding that the state’s map unconstitutionally diluted the voting strength of Democrats and ordered the case to be reconsidered.

The high court’s June 25 decisions mean that neither state is likely to face a court-ordered redraw in this election cycle. And while the North Carolina case could be reconsidered for the 2020 election, the ruling in the Texas case likely means that the current map will be used until after new maps are drawn in 2021, based on the results of the 2020 census.

In their decison in the Texas case, the justices ruled 5-to-4 that a lower court erred in finding back in 2017 that a congressional map and state House maps adopted in 2013 should be struck down because they were impermissibly drawn using racial considerations. The Supreme Court had put that ruling on hold while it considered the state’s appeal.

The two congressional districts involved in the lawsuit were the 27th District, which stretches along the Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi toward Houston, and the 35th District, which covers parts of Austin and San Antonio linked by a narrow strip of land.

The lower court’s objection to the 27th District was the GOP-controlled legislature reduced the Latino population from 70 percent to around 50 percent. The objection to the 35 District was that legislators used race to create a district that is more than 70 percent Latino and African American, reducing minority populations in surrounding districts.

The 27th District, currently vacant, has been held by Republicans since it was redrawn. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a white Democrat from Austin, represents the 35th District.

In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said the evidence offered by the plaintiffs “is plainly insufficient to prove that the 2013 Legislature acted in bad faith and engaged in intentional discrimination.” The justices did uphold a ruling that a Texas House district in Fort Worth was an impermissible racial gerrymander.

But in her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the court’s decision means minority voters in Texas “will continue to be underrepresented in the political process.”

“Those voters must return to the polls in 2018 and 2020 with the knowledge that their ability to exercise meaningfully their right to vote has been burdened by the manipulation of district lines specifically designed to target their communities and minimize their political will,” she wrote.

In the North Carolina case, the justices vacated a 2018 ruling by a three-judge panel that the congressional map adopted by Republican legislators in 2016 was unconstitutional because it diluted the voting strength of Democrats — the first time that a federal court had ever struck down a congressional map on the grounds of political, rather than racial, gerrymandering.

The Supreme Court had also put that ruling on hold while it considered an appeal.

The Tar Heel State’s map had been redrawn in 2016 after a previous map had been struck down for improperly using racial considerations. GOP lawmakers freely admitted that they were drawing lines to maximize the number of Republican-friendly seats, which the lower court found was evidence of unconstitutional partisan taint.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to North Carolina to be reconsidered in light of a ruling earlier this year in case involving a partisan gerrymander in Wisconsin. In that case, the high court sidestepped the question of whether drawing maps that favor one party over another can be found unconstitutional, returning the case to a lower court on narrow jurisdictional grounds.

The court’s order did not indicate how, or if, justices were split on the merits of the case.

While North Carolina is divided fairly evenly in presidential races and has a Democratic governor, Republicans hold a commanding 10-to-3 margin in the U.S. House delegation.

Texas, which leans more Republican, has 24 Republicans and 11 Democrats in its delegation, with one seat vacant.

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