Supreme Court Puts Brakes on North Carolina Gerrymandering Ruling

(CN) – The Supreme Court on Thursday night temporarily blocked a trial court’s order requiring North Carolina lawmakers to redraw a congressional district map that was found to unconstitutionally diminish the voting power of minority and Democratic voters.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the unsigned order, the likely result of which is that this year’s midterm elections will be conducted using districts favorable to Republican candidates.

A trial court had found that the state’s GOP legislators violated the Constitution by drawing congressional voting districts to hurt the electoral chances of Democratic candidates. That decision, issued by a three-judge panel last week, was the first from a federal court to strike down a congressional map as a partisan gerrymander. They had given the legislature until Jan. 24 to draw up a new map.

The panel said the current district map violates the 14th Amendment because GOP lawmakers drew the districts to enhance Republican’s chances of winning a majority of the district.

The districts had previously been challenged on the grounds that lawmakers effectively segregated many minority voters into a handful of districts.

The Justices did not explain their rational for granting the stay in the brief order issued Thursday night, nor did the dissenters explain why they disagreed. The Supreme Court has ruled that racial gerrymandering can violate the Constitution. But it has never struck down a voting map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

The court is already considering two other major tests of partisan gerrymandering, from Wisconsin and Maryland. It said its stay in the North Carolina case will remain in place until those other cases are decided.

The American Civil Rights Union, a conservative civil rights group founded by Robert Carleson, wrote an amicus brief supporting the stay arguing that requiring the legislature to redraw a map in time for voter registration next month would “immediately upend the election process.”

“The court has demanded a new map in just fourteen days, and that map must comply with exceptionally complex and unusual tests and evidentiary standards,” Scott Gessle, a lawyer with Klenda Gessler and Blue wrote on behalf of the organization.

Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party called the SCOTUS order “extremely disappointing” in a Facebook post late Thursday night. He said it rewards “unconstitutionally elected Republican caucuses and condemns voters to yet another election under unconstitutional districts.”

“For nearly a decade, North Carolina voters have suffered under the worst unconstitutional gerrymanders in the county,” Goodwin said. “Despite this decision, Democrats are committed to challenging Republicans across the state who have shown they are more interested in rigging our elections for their own partisan benefit than listening to their constituents.”

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