WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Friday, Feb. 4, the North Carolina Supreme Court struck down the state’s enacted congressional and legislative maps for being partisan gerrymanders that violate the North Carolina Constitution. In its 4-3 decision, the court concluded that partisan gerrymandering claims are justiciable under the state constitution and any map “that diminishes or dilutes a voter’s opportunity to aggregate with likeminded voters to elect a governing majority…infringes upon that voter’s fundamental right to vote,” explicitly rejecting the lower court and Republican defendants’ notion that partisan gerrymandering is allowed under the state constitution. The court ordered the Legislature to submit redrawn plans using “neutral redistricting criteria” by Feb. 18.
The ruling comes from two lawsuits challenging the enacted maps: Harper v. Hall and North Carolina League of Conservation Voters (NCLCV) v. Hall. After a trial was held in the beginning of January, the trial court ruled that partisan gerrymandering claims are not justiciable — meaning not suitable for North Carolina courts to rule on. The parties appealed this decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court, which held oral argument this past Wednesday. In its opinion today, the state Supreme Court held that partisan gerrymandering is not allowed under the state constitution, which protects the right to vote for every eligible citizen. The majority found that the “General Assembly violates the North Carolina Constitution when it deprives a voter of his or her right to substantially equal voting power on the basis of partisan affiliation.” The court reminded the Legislature that “partisan advantage is not a traditional neutral districting criterion under state law” and its new plans “shall adhere to traditional neutral districting criteria and not subordinate them to partisan criteria.” If the Legislature fails to enact new maps, the court will take over the process.