Federal Court Strikes Down North Carolina Voting District Plan Before November Elections

With the November elections looming, North Carolina may be required to reorganize its congressional districts. Three federal judges in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that the legislature had violated the Constitution by gerrymandering districts to favor Republicans over Democrats, as openly acknowledged by Republican state legislators. The judges voiced concern about moving forward with voting in the affected congressional districts, even though the candidates already have been set for the elections.

The Supreme Court may intervene, but this may not lead to the result that the North Carolina legislature desires. A tied 4-4 vote (which could happen with only eight members on the court) means that a lower court’s ruling stands. This would involve redrawing the district lines. The Fourth Circuit pointed out that the unconstitutional plan has persisted for six years and three election cycles. (Most recently, the 2016 elections led to a 10-3 advantage for Republicans, even though they won only 53 percent of the total vote.)

Therefore, the court expressed little confidence that the state legislature could resolve the problem on its own. Some alternatives that the court suggested included holding general elections without primaries, holding primaries in November and holding the general elections later, or appointing a special master to oversee the redistricting.

Read the opinion in more detail at Justia here.