The Supreme Court intervened Thursday in a legal dispute over gerrymandered North Carolina congressional districts, temporarily blocking a lower court ruling that invalidated the current map and imposed a Jan. 24th deadline for state lawmakers to redraw the entire congressional map. A three-judge federal court panel ruled last week in League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho that the state GOP had intentionally—and successfully—drawn the map of congressional district’s in the state to ensure the GOP would keep its seats. The court found the Republican districting methodology to be unconstitutional and imposed a quick deadline on legislators to come up with a newly drawn map because candidates in North Carolina can begin filing to run for congress on Feb. 12.
The Supreme Court granted a stay in response to North Carolina Republican leaders’ request, meaning the districts are unlikely to be changed before November’s election. “The decision was not unexpected, because the Supreme Court generally is reluctant to require the drawing of new districts before it has had a chance to review a lower court’s ruling that such an action is warranted, especially in an election year,” the Washington Post notes. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor both dissented from the Court’s unsigned order, indicating they would not have accepted the Republican lawmakers request that the court wait until it had come to decision in two similar cases it’s currently considering. The court has already heard arguments in Gill v. Whitford, a gerrymandering case in Wisconsin, which involves state races; a case in Maryland, which the court has agreed to hear, challenges the composition of a single Maryland congressional district.
In the North Carolina case, the Republican in charge of the redistricting effort in the statehouse, Rep. David Lewis, justified the current drawing of the map saying: “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats. So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.” Unsurprisingly, Republicans hold 10 of 13 congressional seats despite the state’s shift toward a battleground state. At the presidential level, the state as flipped back and forth with Trump narrowly defeating Hillary Clinton in 2016, after Obama won the state in 2008 before losing it in 2012 to Mitt Romney. The governor and attorney general of the state are both Democrats; both senators are Republicans.
The federal court’s original ruling earlier this month marked the first time a federal court had ever invalidated a state’s entire congressional map. In 2016, the court also rejected the composition of two specific North Carolina congressional districts on the grounds that the largely black districts were drawn using race as the predominant factor. “The Supreme Court has ruled that racial gerrymandering can violate the Constitution,” according to the New York Times. “But it has never struck down a voting map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.”