A panel of federal judges struck down North Carolina's congressional maps as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders this evening, handing a big win to Democrats hoping to take on the Republican majority in the state's congressional delegation. The judges gave North Carolina lawmakers until January 29 to come up with a remedial plan and file it with the court, but warned they would come up with their own map if the legislature's alternative was not sufficient.
“We agree with plaintiffs that a wealth of evidence proves the General Assembly’s intent to ‘subordinate’ the interests of non-Republican voters and ‘entrench’ Republican domination of the state’s congressional delegation,” wrote Judge James A. Wynn Jr. in a nearly 200-page opinion.
The decision added insult to injury for state Republicans, who drew the map after another federal court in 2016 found the state's 2011 congressional map to be an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. When legislators convened to redraw the maps, they were explicit about their intent to favor Republicans, who hold a 10-3 majority in Congress.
“I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with eleven Republicans and two Democrats,” said Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican who is currently the chair of the House redistricting committee.
Today's decision found the map to to be an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander on equal protection and free speech grounds. The lawsuit was filed by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause. The ruling marks the first time congressional districts have been struck down as partisan gerrymanders, though a similar case from Wisconsin was recently heard by the Supreme Court.
The response to the maps was unsurprisingly partisan. Republicans denounced the court's decision and vowed to appeal it to the Supreme Court. On Twitter, Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, took a page from the Trump playbook, accusing "activist" judge Jim Wynn of "waging a personal, partisan war on North Carolina Republicans."
"It is now very clear that Judge Wynn has decided that @ncgop should not be allowed to draw election districts under any circumstances under any set of rules," he added in a follow-up tweet. "This is a hostile takeover of the #NCGA and legislative bodies across the U.S."
Democrats, meanwhile, cheered the decision.
“Republicans comprise 30 percent of registered voters in North Carolina, yet they crafted a congressional map that would ensure Republican success in ten of thirteen districts, or 76 percent,” said Democratic Congressman Butterfield in a statement. “The Republicans made this case relatively simple when they admitted in court that the congressional map was drawn for partisan political advantage.”