After the court-set deadline for final briefs in the legislative gerrymandering case passed last Friday, the waiting game is on. What will the final court-approved maps for the 2020 elections look like?
The plaintiffs challenged 19 House districts the General Assembly drew this summer in response to the court’s order ruling their previous maps were unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. The court may pay special attention to those districts, located in five county groupings.
In a news release, Brent Laurenz, deputy director of plaintiff Common Cause NC, said, “The deeply flawed map-drawing process employed by the House Redistricting Committee fell far short of the court’s clearly stated standards. Instead, incumbents had a hand in re-gerrymandering districts in these five county groupings. The unauthorized sharing of partisan data, the lack of full transparency in drawing districts and the overemphasis on incumbent protection raise serious objections to these 19 new House districts. We believe the court should redraw these maps so residents are able to vote in districts for the 2020 election that are completely free from illegal partisan gerrymandering.”
While there is no certainty regarding timing, court watchers speculate the court will release its order with the final districts well before the end of October. At that point, the litigants will need to decide whether to accept the panel’s final ruling or seek a review by the state Supreme Court. Even if the ruling addresses the plaintiff’s concerns, they may still appeal, hoping to establish precedent that partisan gerrymandering is not allowed under our state constitution. Defendants purposefully did not appeal the original ruling in order to avoid setting that precedent and to contain the ruling’s effect only to the 2017 maps, not any future attempts to draw districts. By contrast, Common Cause and the other plaintiffs have an interest in making the ruling binding for 2021 and beyond.
Meanwhile, both incumbent legislators and would-be challengers are waiting to know where they will run. Much of how North Carolina will handle critical environmental and public health issues for the next decade — including the climate crisis — may hinge on the results. These new maps will determine who holds power after the next elections, and who holds that power will be who draws the maps for the next decade following the 2020 census — or, as NCLCV hopes, who will delegate that power to an independent commission. It will be a pivotal election.