Later this year, North Carolina will probably hold its first truly free and fair election since 2010. It may also be the state’s last. Over the last few weeks, state and federal courts have issued a series of rulings striking down North Carolina Republicans’ brazen attack on democracy and the franchise. In the most important of these decisions, a federal district court held on Monday that the state’s notorious partisan gerrymander is unconstitutional and should not be used in the 2018 election. Because the U.S. Supreme Court is currently short-staffed, the justices may well split 4–4 on an emergency appeal, compelling Republican legislators to comply with the lower-court order. But once Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed, he would likely provide the fifth vote to lock partisan gerrymandering claims out of federal courts for good. The impending election may thus be North Carolina voters’ best and only chance to end the GOP’s illegitimate entrenchment of power in their state—at least temporarily. No one seriously argues that North Carolina Republicans did not create a partisan gerrymander when they redrew congressional districts in 2011. The current lines were drawn in 2016 after a federal court invalidated part of the previous map as a racial gerrymander.
(Later, the Supreme Court affirmed that decision, holding that the contested districts violated the Equal Protection Clause.) In response, Republican legislators in charge of redistricting hired a consultant, Tom Hofeller, who helped them draw their earlier unconstitutional map. Alert to the legal perils of carving up the state by race, map-makers decided instead to draw districts along partisan lines. Republicans therefore directed Hofeller to examine “political data” and “make reasonable efforts” to give the GOP a strong “partisan advantage” whenever possible.
It worked. Despite the state’s roughly even split between Democrats and Republicans, GOP candidates won 10 out of state’s 13 congressional seats in the November election. Voting rights advocates filed a new lawsuit on behalf of the state Democratic Party, as well as voters who alleged that the revised map still infringed upon their constitutional rights. In January 2018, a three-judge federal district court agreed, but in June the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back down after sharpening the standard for who, exactly, has standing to bring these claims in court.
On Monday, the same district court found that both the Democratic Party and individual voters did, indeed, have standing. It then held, once again, that the state’s partisan gerrymander ran afoul of the U.S. Constitution by diluting Democratic votes to dictate the outcome of election. There is abundant evidence that Republicans drew congressional districts with the express purpose of disadvantaging Democrats: One map-maker, Republican Rep. David Lewis, declared, “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats. So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.” Lewis also admitted that he gave Democrats three seats because he couldn’t figure out how to give them fewer. In addition to these smoking guns, the court examined oodles of data—including mangled districts that split up cities and counties—indicating clear partisan intent.
Full Article: The courts are saving democracy in North Carolina (for now)..