Three-Judge Panel Rules N.C. Legislative Redistricting UnconstitutionalBy Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Contributor / September 6, 2019
A three-judge panel ruled unanimously Tuesday, Sept. 3 that North Carolina’s legislative voting districts drawn in 2017 were ‘unlawful partisan gerrymanders,’ and struck them down as unconstitutional.
Twenty-eight North Carolina counties are affected in the state House and 21 in the state Senate by this ruling.
The court ordered new maps be drawn by the Republican-led N.C. legislature before the 2020 elections, and if a mapmaker outside of the legislature is hired, that he or she be approved by the court first.
State lawmakers have until Sept. 18 to have new maps for the state House and Senate drawn and submitted.
State lawmakers may not use election or any partisan data in redrawing the redial legislative maps, the court ordered.
All three judges of the court who heard the lawsuit by Common Cause against the N.C. Legislature – Alma Hinton, Paul Ridgeway and Joseph Crosswhite – agreed to strike down the current redistricting map, even though at least one of the judges is a Republican.
They also agreed in the 357-page ruling that the voting districts violated the state Constitution’s Free Elections Clause, Equal Protection Clause, Freedom of Speech Clause and Freedom of Assembly Clause.
And most importantly, the three-judge panel is not allowing any appeal to delay the process they’ve outlined. In their order, the court “denies a stay of the remedial process.”
Reaction from state lawmakers was swift Tuesday.“This is a big step in making sure that every NC’s vote matters, regardless of where you live,” tweeted House Minority Leader Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake). “Now the North Carolina General Assembly has until Sept. 18 to draw maps that are fair. It is time for us to come together to draw new maps that represent the people of this state and allow four every voice to be heard.”
“An appeal is likely,” said Sen. Jeff Jackson, Democrat, “but if granted, it would go to the state Supreme Court, as this is a matter under the state constitution.”
Irving Joyner, professor of law at North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham, said, “The decision rendered by the three Judge panel in Common Cause, et al. v. David Lewis, et al. is a tremendous victory for the people of North Carolina. Among other things, this Court ruled that the North Carolina constitution provides more protections for our citizens than does the federal constitution and statutes in voting rights matters. The General Assembly had already admitted that it drew legislative lines in order to obtain an advantage over Democrats and bragged about doing it. Now, our State Court has determined that their actions were illegal and that they lied about it to the federal courts. This is a huge legal conclusion that will drastically change and enhance the voting rights protections that people should enjoy in this state. The sad thing is that this General Assembly has done so many evil things during the past eight years that it will require another decade in order for a properly elected General Assembly to repair the harms that have been inflicted in this State.”
Joyner, who is also chair of the N.C. NAACP Legal Redress Committee, continued, “This decision will be appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court, but the General Assembly is now compelled to draw new legislative lines before the 2020 elections are conducted and this Court has declared that its order will not be stayed. We applaud Common Cause and the other Plaintiffs for pressing forward with this challenge.
Professor Joyner added one more perspective specifically regarding African Americans.
“This decision, in conjunction with the N.C. NAACP’s victory in the McCrory racial motivation and redistricting cases, also supports the proposition that the North Carolina Constitution gives more protections to racial minorities, who reside in this state, than does the federal constitution. This is the meaning that African Americans like Bishop John Walker Hood and Abraham Galloway intended when they fought for and inserted an Equal Protection Clause in the 1865 North Carolina Constitution.”