Court tells North Carolina GOP it can't gerrymander a win in the next election

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A state court in North Carolina just struck down the biased legislative maps that have been guaranteeing GOP wins for years.

In a huge victory for democracy, a North Carolina court just threw out that state's incredibly biased legislative maps. Those maps were drawn by the GOP legislative majority and all but guaranteed continued Republican rule, regardless of what voters wanted.

In a sprawling 357-page opinion, a three-judge panel told the GOP in no uncertain terms that the heavily gerrymandered districts violated the North Carolina constitution and were to be redrawn immediately.

The court wrote that the 2017 maps "do not permit voters to freely choose their representative, but rather representatives are choosing voters based on sophisticated partisan sorting." Indeed, these maps led to the GOP maintaining large majorities in both the state senate and house, despite Democrats winning a majority of the statewide vote.

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Those maps had been the subject of litigation since their enactment back in 2011. The GOP has routinely lost in the courts — Tuesday's loss was the 11th time they were ruled against on the issue of gerrymandering. But they just kept redrawing biased maps and going to court.

But now it seems like the road has run out for the North Carolina GOP. The court took pains to thwart Republican legislators from dragging out the process, redrawing the same biased maps, or being able to appeal to the Supreme Court.

First, it gave the Republican legislature the task of redrawing newer, fairer maps — but they only have two weeks to do it. If they don't do it within the two weeks, a court-appointed referee will redraw them instead.

Next, the court ruled that the redrawing of the legislative maps has to occur in public — as in literally it can only happen at "public hearings, with any relevant computer screen visible to legislators and public observers." The GOP also can't hire outside people to help draw maps without the approval of the court. That's because in the past Republican legislators hired Thomas Hofeller, who specialized in drafting highly partisan gerrymandered districts that favored Republicans.

Finally, it's unlikely that the GOP could appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. The North Carolina court decided the case based on the North Carolina constitution, not the federal one.

This insulation from an appeal to the Supreme Court is critical. Earlier this year, the court threw up its hands over a similar gerrymandering case. They held that certain maps were "highly partisan, by any measure" but went on to say that gerrymandering "present[ed] political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts." The North Carolina court shrewdly noted that prohibition only extended to federal, not state, courts, and that gave them the freedom to decide the issue under state law. In fact, state supreme courts are now the best defense against partisan gerrymandering.

The GOP could have chosen to appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court, but Democrats hold six of that court's seven seats. Late Tuesday afternoon, North Carolina Senate Leader Phil Berger said the GOP will not appeal and will begin redrawing maps, though in doing so he threw in some gratuitous whining about Democrats.

People shouldn't have to resort to nearly a decade of litigation just to get fair legislative districts. But if these victories have to be won in court, this could be the first in a long list.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.