Federal judges on Thursday struck down nearly 30 North Carolina House and Senate districts as illegal racial gerrymanders, but will allow General Assembly elections to be held using them this fall. The decision by a three-judge panel comes six months after another set of judges struck down North Carolina’s congressional districts for similar reasons. Thursday’s ruling covering 19 House and nine Senate districts is yet another blow to the GOP lawmakers in North Carolina, which has seen several laws it enacted either partially or wholly overturned by the federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court announced in June that it would hear the appeals of Republican state leaders in that case, where two majority-black congressional districts were thrown out. The previous map drawn in 2011 and still being challenged helped give the state GOP more seats within the congressional delegation in the swing state. The legislative maps, also approved in 2011, also helped Republicans pad their majorities in the two chambers after they took control of the legislature for the first time in 140 years the year before.
Writing for the panel in Thursday’s ruling, U.S. Circuit Judge James Wynn said requiring lawmakers to redraw maps now would result in confusion for voters, candidates and election officials. State lawmakers will be required to fashion new plans when they reconvene for their legislative session early next year.
Postponing the 2016 legislative elections “would cause significant and undue disruption to North Carolina’s election process,” Wynn wrote. “Nonetheless, plaintiffs, and thousands of other North Carolina citizens, have suffered severe constitutional harms stemming from defendants’ creation of 28 district racially gerrymandered in violation of the equal protection clause.”