North Carolina Judges Block Congressional Map Ahead of 2020 Elections

Republican state Sens. Dan Soucek, left, and Brent Jackson, right, review historical maps during the Senate Redistricting Committee for the 2016 Extra Session in the Legislative Office Building at the N.C. General Assembly, in Raleigh, N.C., on Feb. 16, 2016. (Corey Lowenstein/The News & Observer via AP, File)

RALEIGH, N.C. (CN) – A three-judge panel in North Carolina’s capital Monday blocked the state’s Republican-drawn congressional map from being used in the 2020 elections.

In a preliminary injunction, Superior Court Judges Paul Ridgeway, Alma Hinton and Joseph Crosswhite determined that 14 voters who filed a lawsuit against state Republicans – accusing them of unlawfully manipulating the district lines for partisan gain – had a strong likelihood of winning. 

The case, Harper v. Lewis, focuses on maps drawn by the GOP-led General Assembly in 2016.

The preliminary injunction will prevent the state from using the current congressional district maps, beginning with the March 3 primary.

“Quite notably in this case, the 2016 congressional districts have already been the subject of years-long litigation in federal court arising from challenges to the districts on partisan gerrymandering grounds,” the judges wrote in the injunction, adding that the formation of the districts displays “partisan intent.”

The 2016 congressional maps had been created to replace ones that were sketched out in 2011 after federal courts found those districts to be unconstitutional due to racial gerrymandering.

The same panel of judges presided over a case in Raleigh this summer relating to similar claims pertaining to state House and Senate districts. That case was brought by North Carolina’s chapter of Common Cause, the state Democratic Party and several individual voters against state Republican lawmakers.

In that case, computer files belonging to a deceased Republican mapmaker named Tom Hofeller revealed to the judges that partisan data was used to draw legislative maps to an illegal degree, as expert witnesses testified. 

In their ruling in Common Cause v. Lewis, the judges – including Republicans and Democrats from different areas of the state – cited the state constitution’s guarantee of free elections, equal protection under the law, and freedom of speech and assembly. 

During the two-week hearing in July, witnesses for pro-democracy groups argued that “cracking” apart North Carolina Democrats into separate legislative districts to create more Republican-favorable districts violated the right of those supporters to assemble. 

While many Republican leaders in the state have publicly expressed concern that new maps would confuse voters, as they did during the hearings for Common Cause v. Lewis, the judges on Monday advised that the election process will not be disrupted if the General Assembly works with “haste” to draw new congressional districts.

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