Three-panel judge rules that North Carolina’s political maps must be redrawn

Jankhna Sura, Features Editor

Sept. 3, 2019,  a three-judge panel ruled that North Carolina’s political maps were unconstitutional and qualified as gerrymandered. This decision made by two Democratic judges and one Republican seemingly ends the legal battle over the gerrymandered districts. 

Gerrymandering is when politicians draw district boundaries to favor one party over another. Known as partisan gerrymandering, it puts one party at an advantage and the other at a disadvantage. 

“I do not support gerrymandering whatsoever and feel that it discourages democracy and voter turnout. If you are in a red or blue district and you are on the opposite side, you feel like there’s no point in showing up. Parties should not control how we draw districts. There is no need for our elections to be decided before voting day even takes place,” said Cooper Sykes, senior. 

Since N.C.’s maps were redrawn in 2011, Republicans have maintained a wide majority in the Senate, even when Democrats won the majority of votes in N.C. These maps were drawn by Tom Hoefeller, who was hired as a Republican political strategist and was known for his skill in partisan gerrymandering. In 2017, after federal courts deemed the maps unconstitutional, Hoefeller was hired again and the cycle continued. 

The 357 page ruling by a panel of three judges found that the districts were deliberately drawn to maintain a Republican majority in the state legislature. 

The court claimed that the maps violated the state constitution by denying free elections, equal protection under the law and freedom of speech. They also said the maps were unconstitutional because “it is the carefully crafted maps, and not the will of the voters, that dictate the election outcomes in a significant number of legislative districts and, ultimately, the majority control of the General Assembly.”

In June 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States of America (SCOTUS) ruled that decisions on gerrymandering were beyond their jurisdiction and they could not judge whether extreme gerrymandering was in violation of the Constitution. North Carolina’s ruling is the first major decision made on gerrymandering since SCOTUS’s ruling. 

“I don’t believe gerrymandering is beyond the authority of the Supreme Court to judge. If our highest court in our land can’t look at a picture of a wayward district and recognize the poor intentions behind it, it is deeply concerning for our government as a whole,” said Sykes.

In NC, the judges ruled that the legislature had to redraw the maps by Sept. 18, 2019. The lines could be drawn to protect incumbents but could use any other political data.  The new maps would be used for the 2020 election. 

“I think [the decision] made sense. To give more time gives politicians the opportunity to research and find ways around fair districting.  I think expediency and efficiency would be helpful in making the districting more equitable,” said Trena Kirby, AP Government and Politics teacher.

The new maps received a final approval from the N.C. House and Senate, Sept. 17, 2019. The final decision on the verdict of the maps will be up to the original three-judge panel.

This ruling is not the end of gerrymandering, but it can be used to influence other states to battle partisan maps.

“The 14th Amendment guarantees every citizen equal protection under the law, which would include everyone’s vote counting equally.  When districts are gerrymandered, some votes are automatically discounted on purpose and so therefore unequal to other citizens’ votes.  It has been litigated before, and will be again because the phrase ‘equal protection’ can be interpreted differently by different people,” said Kirby.