Last week capped off another eventful week in North Carolina's redistricting saga—and what a wild ride it's been.
It started Thursday evening, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower court's decision that ordered the state to redraw congressional maps found to be partisan gerrymanders. SCOTUS's decision effectively blocked the state from drawing new maps before the 2018 election—handing a win to Republicans, who hold a 10–3 majority in the state's delegation.
The next day, however, victory came for the Democrats.
On Friday, a panel of federal judges ruled that lawmakers must adopt districts drawn by a special master in the state's upcoming legislative elections. The new plan came in response to a court's ruling last year that twenty-eight legislative districts were unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered. Lawmakers were ordered to redraw the maps, and, in August, a redistricting committee offered a new plan that was supposed to fix things.
The key word there is supposed. The plaintiffs in the case were ultimately unsatisfied with the committee's redraw. In response, the court ordered an outside party (known as a special master), Nathaniel Persily of Stanford University, to come up with redistricting plans for nine new districts that the plaintiffs had challenged. Persily submitted his plans last month, and, on Friday, the court approved his plan and ordered legislators to use the new districts in the upcoming legislative elections.
The new districts are likely—though not certain—to benefit Democrats, who are hoping to chip away at Republicans' veto-proof supermajorities in the General Assembly. If Democrats are able to eke out enough wins to break a supermajority in either the House or Senate, then Governor Cooper will have enough power to sustain his vetoes, and Republicans might be forced to occasionally compromise with Democrats.
Republican leaders denounced the decision and vowed to appeal. On Sunday, they filed a request to stay the court's order to use Persily's plan pending an appeal to the Supreme Court. They also criticized the three-judge panel—consisting of two Obama appointees and one George W. Bush appointee—that issued last week's decision.
"If a power-hungry federal court can order that a California-based professor gets to usurp the North Carolina legislature's constitutional authority to draw election maps, then there is no limit to federal judicial power," Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest posted on Twitter. "This is nothing short of judicial tyranny."