Democracy is still alive in North Carolina. Late Friday, the state Supreme Court struck down the General Assembly’s extreme partisan gerrymandering and ordered an immediate redraw of new, constitutional maps for Congress and the state legislature. The court acted quickly, having just heard oral arguments Wednesday.
We are a leading plaintiff in the consolidated voting rights cases on which the court just ruled. “Today the Supreme Court ruled that our state constitution guarantees North Carolinians the right to elect their leaders in free and fair elections, something the General Assembly denied them when they drew their unconstitutional gerrymandered maps,” said our Executive Director Carrie Clark after the decision. “This is the justice we sought when we filed this lawsuit. With new, constitutional maps, North Carolinians will have a fighting chance to elect a government that fulfills their desire for environmental justice and climate action.”
Gov. Roy Cooper had this reaction to the decision: “A healthy democracy requires free elections and the NC Supreme Court is right to order a redraw of unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts. More work remains and any legislative redraw must reflect the full intent of this decision.”
Attorney General Josh Stein tweeted this reaction: “Fantastic news for voters and the health of our democracy—the NC Supreme Court just struck down the legislative and congressional maps as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The maps violate a voter’s fundamental right to vote.”
In its order (PDF), the court sent the case back to the Superior Court panel which originally heard it, and gave legislators one final chance to draw new maps that meet state constitutional standards by not systematically discriminating against voters on the basis of party affiliation. They must do so by February 18.
All other parties in the case, including us, may also submit proposed maps to this panel by the same deadline, which we already did when we filed our lawsuit. Those three judges will then choose the three maps to be used in the next decade of elections by February 21. Parties may appeal their choice back to the Supreme Court by February 23, the day before candidate filing is set to reopen.
The court order made it clear it intends the primary to still be held May 17, but given the time crunch, there is a chance the Supreme Court pushes the primary back again.
While plaintiffs celebrated the win for democracy and equal justice under the law, dissenters and legislative defendants predictably attacked the court’s majority order as itself partisan. These critics have no sense of irony, given they are the ones who gerrymandered our state for partisan advantage and turned previously nonpartisan judicial races with public financing into expensive partisan contests. They continue to threaten impeachment for justices who don’t decide in their favor and retaliation if they are able to retake the court majority in November’s election.
It is important to remember what the two sides in this case are seeking. Legislative leaders are arguing for the right to draw maps giving their party’s candidates an extreme electoral advantage, no matter what the majority of voters want. We and other plaintiffs want maps designed to give no party an advantage. Our position is actually the definition of nonpartisan. We seek districts that give all voters a fair chance to choose their representatives, without being jammed into districts designed to give any party a disproportionate advantage.
We are in this fight to ensure that North Carolina’s voters have the right to choose their representatives in free, fair, competitive elections in 2022 and beyond. Click here to power this fight!