The U.S. Supreme Court sidestepped making a landmark ruling on Monday about when gerrymandering for partisan gain goes too far, leaving some legal analysts to speculate that North Carolina could have the next case to test that question. The justices issued long-awaited rulings in Wisconsin and Maryland cases that could have had a profound stamp on legislative redistricting in the states and reshape American politics. Instead, the justices sent both cases back to lower courts for further proceedings, a move largely described on social media as “a punt.” That means the next case in the queue for the Supreme Court is the North Carolina lawsuit questioning whether the Republican-controlled General Assembly went too far in 2016 when it redrew the state’s 13 congressional districts in response to a court order. A panel of federal judges ruled in January that North Carolina’s congressional districts were unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders, and an appeal awaits action by the Supreme Court.
Whether the court will set arguments for North Carolina in the fall or send the case back to the lower court to take note of the questions raised in the Wisconsin ruling is still uncertain.
That question could be answered this month in the closing weeks of the court’s session.
“It only takes four justices to move it forward,” said Justin Levitt, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who follows election law and redistricting cases. “North Carolina in some ways has one of the clearest cases of intent.”