A three-judge panel on Monday struck down North Carolina’s congressional map as a partisan gerrymander, setting up the possibility that this fall’s midterms will be held under new lines.
The panel for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina ruled that the Republican-controlled state legislature redrew the map in 2016 to favor the GOP. That redraw was response to an earlier court decision that invalidated the state’s map as a racial gerrymander.
The case was one the Supreme Court sent back to the lower court earlier this year when it ruled in a Wisconsin gerrymandering case that plaintiffs must prove they have standing in each district.
Democrats are seriously contesting at least three GOP-held districts in the state under the current map.
The court recognized that primaries in North Carolina have already been held and that the general election is just several months away. Normally, the court said, that would be enough incentive to leave the current map from 2016 in place for November.
But things could be different this time. The court is asking the parties in the case to file briefs no later than Aug. 31 proposing alternative solutions. One solution the court itself proposed is for North Carolina to hold primaries on Nov. 6 using a new map and to then hold general elections before January 2019.
The court also suggested the possibility of not having primaries at all, referring to a decision by the North Carolina General Assembly to abolish primaries for some partisan state offices.
The court has also asked the parties to address whether the General Assembly should have another shot at redrawing the maps, though its opinion stated it was leaning against giving the body a second chance.
“To begin, the General Assembly made no discernible effort to take advantage of the previous opportunity we afforded it to draw a plan that cures the partisan gerrymander,” the court wrote.
If the General Assembly is allowed to draw a remedial map, the court is giving it a Sept. 17 deadline. But Republican legislative leaders are likely to ask the U.S. Supreme Court for an emergency stay of the lower court’s ruling.
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