Lawyers for the state of North Carolina will make oral arguments in the Supreme Court next week, seeking to overturn a lower federal court’s ruling that two of the state’s congressional districts were illegally and intentionally drawn to weaken African-American and minority voting power. It’s expected the high court could hand down a decision in the case next spring or summer. That process, though, could be delayed if the current eight justices opt to have both sides re-argue the case next year, should a ninth justice be confirmed and join the bench. The Supreme Court’s decision in the redistricting case – stemming from a legal challenge to congressional district maps drawn in 2011 by state lawmakers – could have significant political impact, though North Carolina already has redrawn the contested maps and the state used the newly approved districts in this year’s election. Earlier this year, a panel of three federal judges forced North Carolina to postpone congressional primaries and re-do the maps.
The central question in the case is whether North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature approved oddly shaped congressional districts that were drawn illegally to pack minority voters in the 1st and 12th Congressional Districts. The plaintiffs in the case argue North Carolina lawmakers sought to specifically weaken African-American voting power across the state, which would put Democratic candidates at a disadvantage. The state’s attorneys have argued the old maps are lawful and were drawn to meet federal requirements in place at the time.
The case has been winding its way through the courts since 2011, and a conclusion could still be many months away, given the possibility of waiting for President-elect Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. Similar cases involving questions of racially gerrymandered districts have been decided by 5-4 rulings, so it’s possible justices will require an odd number on the bench to render a decision next year, said Michael Li, senior redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.