National Redistricting Foundation Supports New Lawsuit in North Carolina: Individual Voters Sue in North Carolina State Court Over Partisan Gerrymandering of Congressional Map

National Redistricting Foundation Supports New Lawsuit in North Carolina: Individual Voters Sue in North Carolina State Court Over Partisan Gerrymandering of Congressional Map

Today, the National Redistricting Foundation (NRF) is supporting a group of individual voters who are suing over the partisan gerrymandering of the North Carolina congressional map. The lawsuit, which was filed in the Wake County Superior Court, challenges the 2016 redistricting plan as violating the North Carolina Constitution and seeks to establish a new, fair map for use in the 2020 elections – a map that that does not burden or penalize any voter based on their political beliefs or past votes. The National Redistricting Foundation, a 501(c)(3) affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, will be supporting the legal fees of Arnold & Porter, Perkins Coie and Patterson Harkavy LLP as counsel for the plaintiffs. The lawsuit follows the recent state court ruling of a unanimous three-judge state court panel in Common Cause v. Lewis, a case also funded by the NRF, that invalidated significant portions of the maps for both chambers of the General Assembly as violating the state constitution and ordered them redrawn. 

In 2016, Republicans in the General Assembly were forced to redraw the congressional map because the prior map illegally cracked and packed voters on the basis of race. With the explicit intent to gerrymander for Republicans, leaders in the General Assembly engaged Dr. Thomas Hofeller to once again weaponize partisan data and prior election results to lock in 10 seats for Republicans and 3 for Democrats. The Joint Redistricting Committee adopted “Partisan Advantage” as an official criteria for the 2016 map, directing that the map preserve “10 Republicans and 3 Democrats” in North Carolina’s congressional delegation. Representative David Lewis even said: “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats.  So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.”  The manipulation of the districts has worked in both elections in which the maps have been in place. Even during a historic wave election in 2018, when Democratic congressional candidates received a majority of the statewide vote after adjusting for an uncontested race, Republicans still won 10 of 13 seats.  

“For nearly a decade, the people of North Carolina have been forced to vote on manipulated electoral maps that were drawn by Republicans in the legislature to create a partisan outcome,” said Eric H. Holder, Jr., the 82nd Attorney General of the United States. “It’s time for this era of gerrymandering in North Carolina to come to an end.  Voters must finally have a fair chance at electing representatives of their choice. In North Carolina – and in states around the country - we need to stop politicians from picking their voters and restore fairness in our electoral system.” 

“North Carolina’s 2016 congressional map may be the most extreme and brazen partisan gerrymander in American history,” said R. Stanton Jones, a partner at Arnold & Porter.  It is time for the congressional map to meet the same fate as the gerrymandered state legislative maps recently struck down under the North Carolina Constitution.” 

“North Carolina’s first congressional map was thrown out as  an unconstitutional racial gerrymander by the U S Supreme Court,” said Marc Elias, Chair of the Political Law Practice at Perkins Coie. “The Republican legislature responded with an egregious partisan gerrymander in violation of the State Constitution.  The voters of North Carolina deserve better and we are committed to making sure they have fair and legal maps in time for the 2020 congressional elections.”

In Rucho v. Common Cause, a 2019 Supreme Court decision involving the congressional map in North Carolina at issue here, the Court held that partisan gerrymandering claims are not reviewable under the federal constitution. However, in his opinion for the Court, Chief Justice John Roberts stated, “provisions in state statutes and state constitutions can provide standards and guidance for state courts to apply.”

The lawsuit filed today alleges that the current map violates multiple provisions of the North Carolina Constitution on three counts. Given the overwhelming evidence and indeed admissions that the map is an extreme partisan gerrymander, and the recent ruling in Wake County Superior Court in Common Cause v. Lewis, the facts of this case are undisputed and the law in North Carolina is clear. The map violates the state constitution’s Free Elections Clause, which guarantees voters an equal opportunity to translate their votes into representation. The map also violates North Carolina’s Equal Protection Clause, which provides broader protection for voting rights than its federal counterpart. And the map violates the state constitution’s Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly clauses by intentionally burdening the protected speech of voters by making it impossible for them to influence the legislative process.

A copy of the complaint can be found here.

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Patrick Rodenbush