A North Carolina state court effectively threw out the state’s map of congressional districts on Monday, saying critics were poised to show “beyond a reasonable doubt” that it was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander favoring Republicans.
The ruling, by a three-judge panel in Superior Court in Raleigh, technically imposes a temporary ban on using the map in primary elections next spring. But the judges signaled that they were unlikely to change their minds by inviting plaintiffs in the case to seek a summary judgment ending the case in their favor. And the judges said they were prepared to postpone primary elections should that prove necessary to further litigate the case or draw new House districts.
The plaintiffs, North Carolina residents, were sponsored by the National Redistricting Foundation, an arm of a Democratic group led by former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. that is seeking to challenge Republican control of the next round of redistricting in 2021.
The House map drawn by Republican legislators in 2016 all but guaranteed the party’s control of 10 of the state’s 13 House districts, even though voters’ political preferences are split almost evenly between the two major parties. A separate challenge to the same map went to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled in June that it did not have the ability to regulate partisan gerrymandering, however egregious.
But the state panel said the map violated broader provisions in North Carolina’s Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech and assembly and equal protection under the law, as well as a guarantee of free elections that does not appear in the federal Constitution.