A panel of federal judges ruled that North Carolina Republicans unconstitutionally gerrymandered a congressional map to unfairly sway elections in their favor.
The judges — James A. Wynn, William Earl Britt, and William L. Osteen Jr.— ruled that the gerrymandered districts violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the First Amendment of the Constitution. The judges imposed a Jan. 24 deadline for a redrawing of the congressional map and barred U.S. House elections in North Carolina until legislators provide a satisfactory map.
In a biting 191-page opinion, Judge James A. Wynn Jr. wrote that North Carolina’s Republican-dominated General Assembly had been “motivated by invidious partisan intent” by deliberately manipulating the boundaries of the North Carolina congressional map to allow for Republicans to win 10 of the state’s 13 districts.
“Partisan gerrymandering runs contrary to numerous fundamental democratic principles and individual rights,” Wynn added.
The judges determined that Republicans excluded Democrats from the remapping process, and hired a Republican National Convention consultant, who, according to the court was instructed “to minimize the number of districts in which Democrats would have an opportunity to elect a Democratic candidate.”
“Rather than seeking to advance any democratic or constitutional interest,” the panel wrote in a lengthy opinion, “the state legislator responsible for drawing the 2016 plan,”
Wynn wrote that the remapping violated constitutional the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, the First Amendment and Article I of the Constitution.
According to the panel, the gerrymander was in violation of the Equal Protection Clause “because the General Assembly enacted the plan with the intent of discriminating against voters who favored non-Republican candidates” and that it “has had and likely will continue to have that effect,” which is detrimental to “legitimate state interest.”
With regard to the General Assembly’s violation of the First Amendment, the panel said that the gerrymandering “unjustifiably discriminated against voters based on their previous political expression and affiliation.”
The panel determined that the partisan gerrymandering violated Article 1 of the Constitution “by exceeding the scope of the General Assembly’s delegated authority to enact congressional regulations and interfering with the right of ‘the People’ to choose their Representatives.”
The ruling was the first time that a federal court had blocked a congressional map because of a partisan gerrymander, and it instantly endangered Republican seats in the coming elections.