Federal district court judges found that in 2011, lawmakers in North Carolina unconstitutionally relied on race when drawing legislative boundaries for members of the state House and state Senate. The judges also announced, unfortunately, that there was insufficient time to rectify the situation before the 2016 election.
However, WRAL reported earlier this month that the North Carolina lawmakers have been ordered to redraw their legislative districts by March 15, 2017, and hold new elections in the fall of next year. The court also ruled, according to Reuters, that state lawmakers who were elected in 2016 will serve for just one year instead of two to help offset the effects that gerrymandering had on voters this year.
The judges’ order explained that the lawmakers had plenty of time to follow through with redrawing the districts — seven months from the time the districts were deemed unconstitutional.
‘This gives the State a total of seven months from the time the districts were held to be unconstitutional, which is longer than it took the 2011 legislature to redistrict the entire state.’
Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the organization that represented the plaintiffs in this case, commented on the ruling and the importance of fair representation for the people of North Carolina, saying: “North Carolinians deserve fair representation in the state legislature, and that is impossible to achieve with racially gerrymandered districts. A special election in the affected districts in 2017 is the best way to protect the rights of all North Carolinians.”
The executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party, Kimberly Reynolds, also responded positively to the court’s decision. “The North Carolina Democratic Party applauds the federal court’s order to redraw these gerrymandered legislative districts,” she said in a statement. “Our elected officials should fairly represent our state, and redrawn districts will help level the playing field.”
While many are pleased with the ruling and hope that it will lead to fair representation, others, including state Rep. David Lewis and state Sen. Bob Rucho, are already looking to appeal. In a joint statement, Lewis and Rucho called the ruling a “politically-motivated decision” and a “gross overreach.”
“This politically-motivated decision, which would effectively undo the will of millions of North Carolinians just days after they cast their ballots, is a gross overreach that blatantly disregards the constitutional guarantee for voters to duly elect their legislators to biennial terms,” they wrote. “We continue to believe the maps drawn by the General Assembly, pre-cleared by the Obama Justice Department and twice upheld by our state’s elected Supreme Court are constitutional, and we will move quickly to appeal.”
Lewis and Rucho have also raised concerns about the extra costs to taxpayers that will result from special elections next year. The court addressed this concern in the order, saying that, “While special elections have costs, those costs pale in comparison to the injury caused by allowing citizens to continue to be represented by legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander.”
The judges’ ruling is already on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.