On Monday, a federal district court once again struck down North Carolina’s Republican-drawn congressional map as a partisan gerrymander in violation of the Constitution. This ruling reaffirmed the court’s January decision, which the Supreme Court vacated and told the lower court to reconsider in June under a different legal theory of who has standing to sue. The Supreme Court, in adjudicating a separate redistricting suit out of Wisconsin, ruled that each disputed district in such a case would have to be challenged individually instead of on a statewide basis; the lower court held that Democratic plaintiffs in the North Carolina case had in fact satisfied that requirement.
Importantly, the lower court will soon decide whether to require new districts for the elections to be held this year. It also must weigh whether to give the GOP legislature a third shot at drawing a legal map this decade after their first one was struck down for undermining minority voting rights in 2016 and their second version over excessive partisanship earlier this year. That’s important because Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper lacks the power to veto congressional redistricting, meaning a court-drawn map would likely be much fairer than whatever Republican legislators would come up with.
Indeed, a court-drawn map could help Democrats win anywhere from two to five more seats. By contrast, Democrats have almost no hope of winning a majority of seats this year under the existing gerrymander shown at the top of this story, even though 2018 is shaping up to be a Democratic wave year and North Carolina is an evenly divided swing state.
However, it is far from guaranteed that this ruling will lead to new districts this year—or ever. For the moment, conservatives on the Supreme Court are unlikely to stay this ruling pending appeal if the liberal justices disagree, thanks to the temporary deadlock created by Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement. But if Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to succeed Kennedy, the court would host a majority of hard-right justices who have no qualms about letting Republicans gerrymander freely, meaning North Carolina Republicans are ultimately likely to succeed in reversing this ruling when their appeal eventually reaches the high court some time in the next year.
Consequently, with Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings scheduled to begin Sept. 4, there’s a very short window of time the lower court has to order the use of new districts and ensure that its ruling can actually survive. Mitch McConnell says he expects Kavanaugh to be confirmed by Oct. 1, the day the Supreme Court begins its new term. If the district court orders a new map during this window, by the time Kavanaugh in all likelihood joins the bench, it might be too late for the Supreme Court to interfere.
But even if the Supreme Court eventually overturns this ruling, there's still a way to potentially ensure fairer districts in time for the 2020 elections by electing Democrat Anita Earls to the North Carolina Supreme Court. Electing Earls could finally prompt the state court to follow Pennsylvania's lead and use North Carolina's state constitution to strike down partisan gerrymandering, likely insulating it from U.S. Supreme Court review.
Can you give $3 to elect Anita Earls to the North Carolina Supreme Court and help fight Republican gerrymandering?
This post has been expanded.