The state court overseeing challenges to both state legislative and congressional gerrymandering issued major rulings last week, and both were challenged.
NCLCV and other citizen environmental advocates strongly support eliminating partisan gerrymandering, charging that it has been used to inflate the influence of polluters over people.
In the ongoing Common Cause v. Lewis case challenging legislative gerrymandering for partisan reasons, the court approved legislators’ redrawn maps for use in next year’s elections. In a unanimous decision, the panel said the legislature had followed the court’s process requirements and drawn new maps which were adequately free of extreme partisan bias.
A few days later, however, the plaintiffs in that case filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court, charging that at least two multi-county district clusters (Columbus-Pender-Robeson and Forsyth-Yadkin) still failed to eliminate partisan gerrymandering.
Simultaneously, the same three-judge panel from the Common Cause case issued a preliminary injunction in the Harper v. Lewis case challenging partisan gerrymandering in the congressional maps. In this case, the court said the maps used in 2016 failed the same state constitutional provisions which caused it to throw out the legislative maps. But the court has taken only preliminary evidence, and has not yet held a full trial, so it did not issue a new order for remedial action yet. The preliminary order only blocked candidate filing and elections from moving forward under the current maps. The court panel suggested, however, that the legislature should redraw the maps without delay instead of fighting the injunction, unless it wants the court to redraw them itself.
Before the week was done, a different set of plaintiffs filed a new case in the U.S. District Court for Eastern North Carolina, asking that court to intervene in the state court’s order against the congressional maps. Those plaintiffs claim their rights are violated by having to wait for the congressional filing and elections process at this stage, as if that’s more important than voters finally choosing their representatives in competitive elections under fair maps after years of delay under unconstitutional districts. There is no indication yet whether the federal court will take up this new challenge, or if so, how it will rule.
With these cases still in flux, we still do not have the final word on the shape of either congressional or state legislative districts for 2020. In its Harper decision, the court reserved the right to move candidate filing and primaries back for any and all elections. Filing is set to begin in December, with primaries March 3. If resolving gerrymandering claims takes much longer, it is conceivable we could have primaries for congressional and legislative races separate from presidential and other primaries. But the court intends to move quickly to prevent that, if legislators play ball. Stay tuned.