A board of three judges in North Carolina tossed out the state’s legislative district maps on Tuesday, ordering that the plans were such an excessive partisan gerrymander that they infringed the state constitution.
Lawmakers’ partisan intent in drafting the maps, the “surgical precision” with which they were administered, and the unmistakable position the plans gave to Republicans violated the state’s constitutional protections of free elections, free speech and assembly, and equal protection under the law, the judges wrote in a 357-page ruling that reads as a blistering condemnation of partisan gerrymandering.
“The 2017 Enacted Maps, as drawn, do not permit voters to freely choose their representative, but rather representatives are choosing voters based upon sophisticated partisan sorting,” the judges recorded. “It is not the free will of the People that is ascertained through extreme partisan gerrymandering. Rather, it is the carefully crafted will of the map drawer that predominates.”
The ruling is a tremendous success for voting rights advocates, who state that gerrymandering — the process of drawing district maps to favor a party or politician — threatens democracy by authorizing lawmakers to select the voters. While racial gerrymandering is illegal, the Supreme Court refused to weigh in on partisan gerrymandering earlier this summer.
Partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina presented “political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” the Supreme Court said in June, leaving advocates to adjust their fight on gerrymandering in state courts. The suit was filed by Common Cause, a watchdog group, which proclaimed Tuesday’s ruling as part of a “growing list of victories in the fight to end gerrymandering nationwide” in a statement.
The legislature must immediately begin drawing new maps, the court stated, directing that they are drawn based on standards like population, contiguity, and county lines. They must be drawn without “partisan considerations and election results data,” the judges wrote.
“At a minimum, that would require all map drawing to occur at public hearings, with any relevant computer screen visible to legislators and public observers,” the ruling stated.