Alex Keena, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science, said the North Carolina gerrymandering ruling could impact upcoming House elections.

Professor says N.C. gerrymandering ruling could impact upcoming House elections

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Alex Keena, Ph.D.
Alex Keena, Ph.D.

On Monday, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina held that a 2016 congressional district plan passed by the North Carolina legislature constitutes an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander in violation of the First and 14th amendments, noting that “the Constitution does not allow elected officials to enact laws that distort the marketplace of political ideas so as to intentionally favor certain political beliefs, parties, or candidates and disfavor others.” The court ordered that new maps be drawn for the upcoming November elections.

Alex Keena, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science in the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University, is the co-author of “Gerrymandering in America: The House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, and the Future of Popular Sovereignty,” a book that considers the causes and consequences of partisan gerrymandering in the U.S. House of Representatives. He shared his thoughts on the impact of the North Carolina ruling.

What is the significance of this decision?

This is the first case adjudicated after the release of the Supreme Court’s widely anticipated decision [in June] in Gill v. Whitford. Although a federal district court had previously found the North Carolina congressional map to be an unlawful partisan gerrymander, that ruling was vacated by the Supreme Court so that it could be relitigated after the Gill decision, which required plaintiffs challenging unfair district maps to prove that they reside in affected districts.

In its new decision, the district court held that the plaintiffs had satisfied the new requirements set forth in Gill, that “at least one Plaintiff registered to vote in each of the thirteen districts in the 2016 Plan has standing to assert an Equal Protection challenge to each of those districts.” The court has ordered revised maps to be put in place, either by the North Carolina General Assembly, or by the court if the General Assembly fails to act.

Does this matter for 2018?

Yes. In the previous ruling, the district court had ordered North Carolina to revise its congressional map, but that ruling was vacated. Now that the case has been relitigated, new revised maps will be in place during the 2018 House of Representative elections. This means that Republican candidates, trying to maintain control of their House delegation in North Carolina, will not have the advantage of manipulated district boundaries, and it may make it easier for the Democrats to win additional seats.

Will the Supreme Court weigh in?

The Supreme Court may decide to intervene, in which case they could suspend the ruling until it is appealed, but currently there is a 4-4 split on the court, due to the retirement of Justice [Anthony] Kennedy. In the case of a tie, the lower court’s decision would hold.