Federal courts have ruled against gerrymandering on racial grounds in the past, but this week's decision marks the first time gerrymandering has been struck down on purely political grounds. "We agree with plaintiffs that a wealth of evidence proves the General Assembly's intent to "subordinate" the interests of non-Republican voters and "entrench" Republican domination of the state's congressional delegation", Judge James A. Wynn Jr. wrote in his opinion. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors. But in this case, Republicans drew the border between the 13th District and 6th District right through the middle of the city, effectively splitting the Democratic population in two and ensuring that Democrats would have difficulty competing in either district.
The court panel ordered lawmakers to redraw the boundaries by January 29, although Republican leaders said Wednesday they plan to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court; they said they also plan to request a stay of the ruling. As I've explained before, the Supreme Court has long made a distinction between racial gerrymandering and partisan gerrymandering. Over the ensuing decade, academics worked to provide Kennedy (often the "swing" vote on the high court) with such a standard.
The Supreme Court is expected to issue a definitive ruling on gerrymandering this June during the Gill v. Witford case-where Democratic citizens from Wisconsin are suing Republican legislators over redistricting efforts.
It remains to be seen how the Supreme Court will deal with North Carolina's case, which differs in some important ways from the one out of Wisconsin.
For Mattingly, Tuesday's ruling was "an important step in the conversation" about the use of mathematics to illuminate such problems.
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North Carolina has been at the center of election map battles since 2011, when some sued the state for what they called unfair congressional and legislative maps. After being challenged by Democrats, the plan was struck down by the state district court.
The panel of three judges also argued that gerrymandering violated Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which says members of the House of Representatives shall be "chosen every second Year by the People of the several States".
The possibility for delay, however, will soon run up against February filing deadlines for the North Carolina congressional races. Given the opportunity, Democrats will happily gerrymander their opponents into oblivion, as the example of Maryland shows.
Indeed, a year after the redistricting, Republicans captured only a minority of the statewide vote - 48.6 percent - but, as they had privately predicted, they still won 60 of the 99 state legislative seats, while the Democrats, who had won a majority of the vote, captured a mere 39 seats. The policy implications of that development would have been profound.