Court Strikes Down North Carolina's Congressional Map For Diminishing "Non-Republican" Votes

Darnell Taylor
January 10, 2018

A panel of USA federal judges have ruled that North Carolina's congressional district voting map is unconstitutional and illegally favours Republicans. And the state's legislature only has two weeks to redraw it.

On Tuesday, the three-judge panel considering the case, in an opinion by Circuit Judge James Wynn, ruled that the North Carolina's map violated Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and the Election Clause of Article I of the Constitution.

Previous year a separate panel struck down two majority black districts in North Carolina that were drawn in 2011 after judges ruled the map was racially discriminatory. The ruling is the first federal court ruling to strike down a congressional map as representing a partisan gerrymander.

The judges ordered the General Assembly to approve another set of districts by January 24.

"Today's ruling is a major victory for North Carolina and people across the state whose voices were silenced by Republicans' unconstitutional attempts to rig the system to their partisan advantage", Democratic Chairman Wayne Goodwin said. The Supreme Court is set to decide two cases raising the issue of partisan gerrymandering this term.

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But Bob Phillips with Common Cause, which with other voters filed a lawsuit tried with the League of Women Voters' case, said "politicians will no longer be allowed to use partisan gerrymandering in order to shield themselves from accountability to the public" if the ruling stands. "So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country". "This is a hostile takeover of the #NCGA and legislative bodies across the U.S".

In ruling the map unconstitutional under the First Amendment, the court looked to several areas of First Amendment law - including viewpoint discrimination ("prohibit [ing] the government from favoring or disfavoring particular viewpoints"), electoral speech dilution (addressing "the First Amendment's prohibition on laws that disfavor a particular group or class of speakers"), retaliation ("prohibiti [ng]. burdening or penalizing individuals for engaging in protected speech"), and election regulations (having "the potential to burden political speech or association").

Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, criticized Wynn's decision as "a personal, partisan war on North Carolina Republicans", but the three judges on the panel were unanimous about the unconstitutionality of the North Carolina scheme.

Former US Attorney General Eric Holder, who has railed against gerrymandering, called on North Carolina to "finally produce fair maps". Osteen was nominated by President George W. Bush while President Jimmy Carter chose Britt.

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