WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, Jan. 11, a North Carolina state court upheld the state’s new legislative and congressional maps, ruling that partisan gerrymandering claims are not justiciable — meaning suitable for North Carolina courts to rule on — and the plaintiffs did not show any intentional racial discrimination or racial vote dilution. The decision comes after a four-day trial was held last week. An appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court is expected.
The plaintiffs, who include the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters (NCLCV), Common Cause and voters, argued during trial that the new maps are gerrymandered to benefit Republicans in violation of multiple provisions of the North Carolina Constitution. While the three-judge panel concluded the new maps “are a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting,” they rejected the plaintiffs’ partisan gerrymandering claims, finding that “satisfactory and manageable criteria or standards do not exist for judicial determination of the issue and thus the partisan gerrymandering claims present a political issue beyond our reach.” The judges expressed their sympathy that the new maps may “potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our State to ridicule,” emphasizing that “this Court neither condones the enacted maps nor their anticipated potential results.” However, absent any state or federal law banning partisan gerrymandering, the judges deferred to Rucho v. Common Cause when the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court held that partisan gerrymandering is a political issue that is outside the scope of the judicial system’s purview. The judges highlighted the fact that neither the North Carolina nor federal government has taken any steps to outlaw partisan gerrymandering and therefore the “inherently political” redistricting process must remain with the General Assembly. Because the panel found that the partisan gerrymandering claims are nonjusticiable, they ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring this claim.
The court also rejected claims brought by the NCLCV and Common Cause plaintiffs alleging that the new maps intentionally discriminate against Black voters and dilute their voting strength in violation of the North Carolina Constitution. The court ruled that the plaintiffs failed to show that race was the predominant factor during the redistricting process or that the General Assembly had the intention of diluting Black voting strength in new maps. The court did not decide whether the new maps dilute the voting strength of Black Carolinians, finding that the state constitution does not have an applicable provision for vote dilution claims.