A panel of three federal judges again declared North Carolina’s congressional district map to be unconstitutional, ruling on Monday that it was gerrymandered to unfairly favor Republican candidates. The decision, which may have significant implications for control of Congress after the midterm elections, is likely to be appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which for the moment is evenly split on ideological lines without a ninth justice to tip the balance. Though North Carolina’s voters tend to divide about evenly between the two parties, Republicans currently hold 10 of the state’s 13 House seats. A redrawn district map may put more of the seats within Democrats’ reach. The three judges had ruled unanimously in January that the state’s House map violated the First and 14th Amendments by unfairly giving one group of voters — Republicans — a bigger voice than others in choosing representatives.
But the Supreme Court declined in June to hear an appeal in the case, sending it back for reconsideration under guidelines it had set out in a different case about who had legal standing to challenge the map.
In a lengthy ruling on Monday, the panel reached largely the same conclusion that it had in January. And the judges agreed that the plaintiffs in the case — voting-rights advocacy groups and residents of each of North Carolina’s 13 districts — had standing to bring the suit.
The judges left open the possibility that they could order new maps to be drawn before the 2018 election, either by the North Carolina General Assembly or by a special master appointed by the court.