Tuesday, April 23, 2024

What happens next if Supreme Court rejects redistricting maps?

Started Wednesday, it’s the N.C. Supreme Court’s turn to decide whether the latest Republican-drawn legislative and congressional districts are OK under the state constitution.

A lower court has already decided that the maps clearly give Republicans an advantage but that there’s nothing in the constitution to stop them from doing so.

That means the Supreme Court will be focused less on how the districts look and more on what words in the constitution – much of which dates to 1868 – actually mean. 

Attorneys for GOP legislative leaders are urging the court to side with the lower court. They note that the constitution spells out how the General Assembly should draw districts (equal populations, for example) and says nothing about gerrymandering.

Plaintiffs point to two lines in the document outside the section on redistricting: “no person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws” and “all elections shall be free.” They argue those two sentences prohibit districts that dilute the influence of Black voters and predetermine election outcomes in favor of one party.

Most folks here in Raleigh seem to think that the Democratic majority Supreme Court will strike down the districts. Legislators even tried unsuccessfully to further postpone the primaries in anticipation of that outcome.

So what happens next if the districts are ruled unconstitutional? Filings from the various parties in the lawsuit propose several options:

Option 1: Attorneys for legislative Republicans want the Supreme Court to send its ruling back to the lower court’s three-judge panel to oversee the remedy. That panel includes two Republicans and a Democrat, so it makes sense that lawmakers think they’ll get a better outcome if the panel is in charge of making changes.

Option 2: Attorneys for one plaintiff, the League of Conservation Voters, want the Supreme Court to remain in charge of the process. They call for an expedited process in which all parties can submit proposed remedial maps to address the court’s findings. They note that they’ve already drawn an alternative map and want the court to pick their plan unless another option better addresses their issues.

They’re also asking the court to mandate that the redrawn maps stay in place until after the next Census in 2030. That request is likely in response to speculation that legislators could tweak the maps again next year if Republicans regain a majority on the N.C. Supreme Court after this year’s election. The thinking is that a GOP majority court is less likely to intervene on gerrymandering claims. 

Option 3: Lawyers for another plaintiff, Common Cause, suggest that the court appoint a redistricting “special master” – basically a third-party expert – to draw new maps. North Carolina had this scenario back in 2018 when a Stanford University law professor served as the special master. 

The Supreme Court doesn’t have to pick any of these options. It can easily order up a “special” solution of its own. 

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