North Carolina voters will finally get a chance to elect their lawmakers using fair maps, thanks to a state court ruling last Tuesday that struck down the existing maps as a gerrymander that violated the state constitution.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal courts can’t intervene to stop partisan gerrymandering. Last week’s North Carolina decision was the eighth straight anti-gerrymandering ruling by a state or lower federal court, underscoring just what an outlier the high court’s ruling really is.
But this latest news also serves to highlight a broader shift. As we approach the next redistricting cycle starting in 2021, the outlook for getting fair maps in the states that were most egregiously gerrymandered last time around is much more positive than you might think. A close look at those eight states suggests that — though the gerrymandering threat is by no means gone — things are likely to play out very differently this time, thanks to a combination of voter-driven reform efforts, pro-voter court rulings, and changed political dynamics.
The North Carolina ruling itself is seismic. Whether it affects the state’s congressional map or just the state legislative maps that were directly struck down remains unclear. Also unclear is the ruling’s precedential value, since it was issued by a lower state court, not by the state supreme court. But because it ensures that the 2020 state legislative elections will use fair maps, the ruling will likely lead to a state legislature in 2021 that’s relatively evenly balanced between the two parties — perhaps even with split control — rather than wildly skewed to the GOP against the will of voters, as it is now. (The governor has no role in the process in North Carolina). That alone should make the next redistricting process, through which both state legislative and congressional lines will be drawn, much fairer.
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