A partisan gerrymander, pure and simple
by Tom Sullivan
A federal court has once again struck down district maps drawn by North Carolina Republicans as unconstitutional gerrymanders. The ruling was precedent-setting for why the court deemed the maps unconstitutional. It was not because of racial gerrymandering:
The ruling was the first time that a federal court had blocked a congressional map because of a partisan gerrymander, and it instantly endangered Republican seats in the coming elections.The maps not only deny a voice to Democrats in the ten Republican-majority districts, but to Republicans in the three districts Republican lawmakers reserved for Democrats.
Judge James A. Wynn Jr., in a biting 191-page opinion, said that Republicans in North Carolina’s Legislature had been “motivated by invidious partisan intent” as they carried out their obligation in 2016 to divide the state into 13 congressional districts, 10 of which are held by Republicans. The result, Judge Wynn wrote, violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.
The result is not a big surprise given what North Carolina did here. After its earlier redistricting was declared a racial gerrymander, it came up with a new plan using only political data that it described as a partisan gerrymander on its own terms. It did this as a defense against a future racial gerrymandering claim. As the court explained at page 16, NC “Representative Lewis said that he “propose[d] that [the Committee] draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats because [he] d[id] not believe it[ would be] possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats.” If there’s any case that could be a partisan gerrymander, it’s this one.Hasen's colleague Nicholas Stephanopoulos adds that the court rejected the defendants' arguments against using empirical evidence of partisan discrimination to reject their maps:
The Supreme Court is already considering two partisan gerrymandering cases, one from Wisconsin and one from Maryland. No doubt NC will appeal this case to the Supreme Court, which is likely to hold it in light of the decision in those cases (it would be too late, absent extraordinary briefing, to set the case for argument this term). It likely will be sent back to this court to reconsider in light of what the Court does.
The court, though, observed that “plaintiffs do not seek to constitutionalize any of the empirical analyses they have put forward,” adding that “these analyses provide evidence that the 2016 Plan violates a number of well-established constitutional standards.” The court further criticized the defendants for their “cynical” view that analysis should be discarded if it has “its genesis in academic research.” “It makes no practical or legal sense for courts to close their eyes to new scientific or statistical methods.” “The Constitution does not require the federal courts to act like Galileo’s Inquisition and enjoin consideration of new academic theories.”Not that Republican lawmakers have any history of doing that.