A panel of three federal judges in North Carolina struck down the state’s 2016 congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander on Tuesday.
The ruling blocks the state from conducting any elections under the 2016 map and orders the state’s General Assembly to redraw congressional districts by Jan. 24 for the 2018 elections.
The state will likely appeal the decision to the Supreme Court and ask for a stay. The Supreme Court is currently considering two other partisan gerrymandering cases, one about state legislative districts in Wisconsin and one about Maryland’s congressional map.
The filing deadline for congressional candidates in North Carolina is Feb. 28, and the primary is May 8.
The Jan. 24 deadline gives the General Assembly two weeks to come up with a remedial plan. But because it’s the middle of an election year, the court is also appointing a so-called special master to develop a remedial plan in case the the General Assembly fails to deliver a plan or their plan doesn’t remedy the partisan gerrymander.
The fact that North Carolina has a Democratic governor doesn’t give Democrats much control in this situation. The governor does not have power to veto a redistricting plan from the General Assembly, said Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center's Democracy Program.
The state Democratic party praised the court's decision Tuesday night, calling it "a major victory for North Carolina and people across the state whose voices were silenced by Republicans' unconstitutional attempts to rig the system to their partisan advantage."
Republicans were critical of the ruling.
"We’re going to fight these redistricting cases as far as we can because it really is no longer about the districts as drawn," said Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party. "It is about whether the courts, in this case the the fourth circuit, are going to usurp legislative prerogative and authority, well established, and two, whether they are going to replace the legislature’s political judgments with its own political judgements — not its legal judgements," Woodhouse said.
He expects the state to immediately appeal the decision.
"We are at least entitled to hear what the Supreme Court has to say about this issue," Woodhouse said.
There’s precedent for court-mandated redistricting during an election year in North Carolina. After a three-judge panel in February 2016 ruled that the GOP-legislature relied too heavily on race in 2011 to draw the 1st and 12th Districts, the General Assembly had to approve a new map for the 2016 elections.
The new map maintained Republicans’ partisan advantage in the delegation but shifted some incumbents’ districts, even putting two incumbents in the same district. The adoption of that new 2016 map forced the state to move its House primaries back to June.
Todd Ruger contributed to this report.