SCOTUS' Partisan Gerrymander Decision Will Impact North Carolina

Jun 19, 2017
Originally published on June 20, 2017 3:38 pm

The United States Supreme Court will decide if states may draw voting districts to gain a partisan advantage.

The ruling is not expected until next year but will greatly impact North Carolina's voting districts, which are among the most severely gerrymandered in the country.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear a redistricting challenge from Wisconsin, but the arguments in that case are very similar to ones from a challenge against voter districts in North Carolina. Already, federal courts have determined that Republican North Carolina lawmakers drew voting districts that are racially gerrymandered, which the Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional. However, the highest court has never ruled against gerrymandering districts purely for partisan gain.

The Wisconsin case might serve as a landmark decision if the court rules against partisan districting. Democrats hope a favorable decision will help them cut into GOP electoral majorities. Election law experts say the case is the best chance yet for the high court to put limits on what lawmakers may do to gain a partisan advantage in creating political district maps, according to the Associated Press.

In North Carolina, the League of Women Voters has challenged five U.S. Congressional districts in the state as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders.

The trial to hear the North Carolina challenge was set to begin June 26, however that case was continued today after the Supreme Court said it would hear the Wisconsin case, according to Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, communications director for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

Gerrymandered districts in North Carolina have tilted the scales in favor of Republicans since 2010. In the 2016 election, Republicans won 10 of 13 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives while receiving just 304,000 more total combined votes in the 13 House races. Said another way, Republicans control 77 percent of the seats, despite winning just 53 percent of the vote. They achieved this by packing likely Democratic voters into three districts, while spreading likely Republican voters across 10 districts.

In the three districts won by Democrats, the average margin of victory was nearly 136,000 votes. In the 10 districts won by Republicans the average margin of victory was 71,000.

As debate surrounding gerrymandered districts has stayed on the front pages, Republican legislators have fired back, saying that Democrats did their fair share of gerrymandering during the decades in which they controlled the General Assembly.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown even pointed to the district of Gov. Roy Cooper – then Senator Cooper – which jutted away from Nash County into parts of Halifax, Edgecombe, and Wilson counties. While Republicans are right to criticize Democrats for their practices of gerrymandering, the current maps are arguably more egregious.

From 1984 through 2010, no party controlled more than eight Congressional seats, and from 1996 through 2010 no party controlled more than seven seats except for the Congress elected in 2008 – the same year Barack Obama won his first term.

Yet, since 2010, North Carolina's Congressional representation has sharply diverted and broken from historical trends.

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