North Carolina’s legislature, under time pressure from the State Supreme Court to redraw a congressional map the Court ruled to be the product of an unconstitutional political gerrymander, sent a new map back to the judges today that would make at least two incumbent Republican congressmen highly vulnerable next year. Currently the GOP controls the House delegation in this closely divided battleground state by a 10-3 margin. The Associated Press has the story:
Republicans offered maps that would place GOP Reps. Mark Walker of Greensboro and George Holding of Raleigh in districts that clearly favor Democratic candidates. Both of their current Republican-leaning districts — a mix of urban, suburban and rural areas — would be consolidated into more Democratic urban counties.
Neither Walker — the former chairman of the Republican Study Committee — nor Holding have said yet whether they’ll run anyway.
Democrats in the legislature opposed the map on grounds that even a (likely) 8-5 map does not adequately reflect the state’s partisan balance, and the plaintiffs who successfully challenged the old map have announced they’ll challenge the new one as well. The North Carolina Supreme Court told legislators to comply with its order before the scheduled beginning of 2020 candidate qualifying on December 2, under threat that next year’s March congressional primaries would otherwise be delayed. The same Court did accept a state legislative map last month from the same legislature allegedly applying the same principles subsequent to an earlier Court ruling that their own map violated equal protection and “free election” provisions in the North Carolina Constitution.
No matter what the Court does about this latest map, this series of developments creates a new obstacle in an already arduous path to regaining the majority for House Republican, who are suffering from retirements, the president’s unpopularity, and the historical fact that the House hasn’t changed hands in a presidential election since 1952. In the long run, the North Carolina Supreme Court’s action (like a 2018 Pennyslvania Supreme Court decision declaring that state’s heavily gerrymandered congressional map unconstitutional on similar grounds) could represent a trend, as I noted last month:
The bottom line is that the big victory Republicans thought they’d won last summer when SCOTUS refused to do anything about North Carolina’s (and Maryland’s) partisan gerrymandering was Pyrrhic. State courts around the country now have two models (this one and Pennsylvania’s in 2018) for using equality protections frequently appearing in state constitutions to stop partisan gerrymandering. And precisely because SCOTUS has pushed federal courts out of the whole business of dealing with this problem, some eager would-be gerrymanderers must now deal with possible state-constitutional limitations just before the next decennial round of redistricting begins in 2021.
If Democrats continue to make state legislative gains next year, then the desire of Republicans to use partisan gerrymandering as part of their overall effort to thwart democracy could become increasingly moot.