This morning the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision that twenty-eight state legislative districts in North Carolina are racially gerrymandered, but vacated the court’s order to redraw the maps and hold special elections in 2017.
The Supreme Court’s three-page order zeroed in on the panel’s decision to call for new maps and special elections, explaining its decision to vacate the order because the District Court “addressed the balance of equities in only the most cursory fashion.”
As noted above, the court simply announced that “[w]hile special elections have costs,” those unspecified costs “pale in comparison” to the prospect that citizens will be “represented by legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander.” App. to Juris. Statement 200. That minimal reasoning would appear to justify a special election in every racial-gerrymandering case—a result clearly at odds with our demand for careful case-specific analysis. For that reason, we cannot have confidence that the court adequately grappled with the interests on both sides of the remedial question before us. And because the District Court’s discretion “was barely exercised here,” its order provides no meaningful basis for even deferential review.
Moving forward, they concluded, courts must “undertake an “equitable weighing process” to select a
fitting remedy for the legal violations it has identified.”
In other words: good news if you opposed the maps drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature several years ago, but not such good news if you want to see special elections under new maps held in the immediate future. The district court could still order a special election, but it will have to meet the Supreme Court standards.
The decision dates back to August 2016, when a panel of three federal judges concluded that twenty-eight districts in North Carolina were unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered. The judges ordered the maps, which were drawn by the state’s Republican majority in 2011, to be redrawn by March 2017; they also ordered the state to hold special elections in those new districts this November. The state appealed that decision, and the redrawing was put on hold as the court reviewed the case.
The news comes just two weeks after the court ruled that two of the state’s congressional districts were also racially gerrymandered.
Several lawmakers have already weighed in.
Democratic U.S. Representative G.K. Butterfield:
“The Supreme Court’s ruling today completes the judicial appellate process for legislative redistricting. The Court has once again told North Carolina what I have long known to be true—that its history in making voting decisions is discriminatory. The General Assembly must fairly redraw legislative boundaries to protect the interests of minority voters. The Court again made clear that the state cannot use race as the predominant factor in drawing boundaries…The legislative elections should take place in the fall of 2017.”
Governor Roy Cooper struck a similar note:
“Whether the election is November 2018 or earlier, redrawing the districts is good for our democracy by leveling the playing field for free and fair elections. The people should be able to choose their representatives in competitive districts instead of the representatives being able to choose the people in lopsided, partisan districts.”
You can read the three-page court order here: