Judges toss N.C. legislative maps; extreme partisan gerrymandering, they say

The judges gave Republican lawmakers two weeks to draw new legislative boundaries, and the maps must be drawn using strict criteria and without partisan consideration.

FILE – In this Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016 file photo, 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. (Corey Lowenstein/The News & Observer, File via AP)

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It’s back to the drawing board – literally — for North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers. On Tuesday, a panel of three judges threw out the state’s legislative maps, ruling that the GOP-drawn districts are such an extreme partisan gerrymander that they violate the state’s constitution.

The judges were unanimous in their ruling and clear in their intent: “The 2017 Enacted Maps, as drawn, do not permit voters to freely choose their representative, but rather representatives are choosing voters based upon sophisticated partisan sorting,” the judges wrote in a 357-page ruling.

Déjà vu: It’s not the first time judges have tossed these maps. The maps drawn in 2011 got tossed on racial grounds, because they were drawn to reduce the clout of black voter. The current maps, while not inherently racial, were drawn to reduce the clout of Democratic voters.

How well it works: Because of the partisan gerrymander, in the 2018 midterm elections, the state’s Democratic legislative candidates got more total votes, but Republican candidates won more total seats in Raleigh.

A tight deadline: The judges gave Republican lawmakers two weeks to draw new legislative boundaries – and the boundaries must be drawn using strict criteria, such as population, contiguity, and county lines. Partisan consideration cannot be a factor, the judges said, and the process must be done with more public oversight.

In previous cases where courts have ruled that North Carolina maps were illegally drawn, judges have allowed the state more time redraw legislative districts, even if the delay meant voters would go to the polls under maps deemed to be unconstitutional. Not so this time.

A win for voters: Republican Senate leader Phil Berger said he won’t appeal the judges’ ruling, though he said he disagrees with the decision.

“…we intend to respect the court’s decision and finally put this divisive battle behind us,” Berger was quoted as saying in The Charlotte Observer. “Nearly a decade of relentless litigation has strained the legitimacy of this state’s institutions, and the relationship between its leaders, to the breaking point. It’s time to move on.”

Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, one of the groups that sued to overturn the maps,” called the ruling “a historic victory for the people of North Carolina.”

Click here to read the rest of today’s Morning Brew.

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