FILE–Wake County District Court, NC

The Wake County Courthouse in RaleighNorth Carolina.

A North Carolina court has banned the state’s legislative maps from being used in the future and has given the General Assembly two weeks to redraw new maps.

The three-judge panel from the superior court ordered lawmakers to reconstruct voting lines in more than 20 counties in a lawsuit filed in November 2018 by the nonprofit Common Cause. 

The activists claimed the maps were unconstitutional. All three of the judges agreed.

“For the first time – this decade – we will have fair maps for the voters of North Carolina to actually elect their legislators,” said Bob Phillips of Common Cause North Carolina.

The judges found that the legislative maps, drawn in 2017 by deceased Republican strategist Thomas Hofeller, violated the equal protection, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and the election rights of North Carolinians.

Lawmakers have until Sept. 18 to redraw the maps for House districts in 14 counties and Senate districts in seven counties.  

According to court documents, Hofeller created maps that grouped voters in districts based on their partisan support “by packing and cracking Democratic voters to dilute their collective voting strength.”

Through Hofeller’s files obtained after his death by his daughter, the court found he used data from previous elections that ended in favorable results for Republicans to create new voting boundaries. The goal, according to court documents, was to maximize the number of seats that Republicans could win in the House and the Senate. The maps were also drawn without Democratic input, the judges found.

“…The 2017 Enacted Maps, as drawn, do not permit voters to freely choose their representative, but rather representatives are choosing voters based on sophisticated partisan sorting.”

Common Cause filed the lawsuit against Rep. David Lewis, as senior chairman of the House Select Committee on Redistricting; Sen. Ralph Rise Jr., as chairman of the Senate Committee on Redistricting; House Speaker Tim Moore; Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger; and members of the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics. 

The judges found that the defendants did not provide enough evidence to refute the allegations.

According to the ruling, Lewis told members of the two redistricting committees, selected in 2017 to reconstruct maps that were deemed racially gerrymandered by a federal court, that Hofeller would work as a consultant of the chairs.

The judges also heard from expert witnesses from each side. 

Witnesses for Common Cause redrew maps but could not find geographical connectors that could match up with the current maps. An expert witness for the defense argued that Republican leaders also represented Democratic constituents.

“No witness denied the plans are intentional and effective partisan gerrymanders,” the court documents said. 

Berger has vowed to follow the ruling and work to adopt a nonpartisan map. He said it is time to move on. Committees plan to meet as soon as Monday next week.

 “We disagree with the court’s ruling as it contradicts the Constitution and binding legal precedent, but we intend to respect the court's decision and finally put this divisive battle behind us,” Berger said.

Staff Writer

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.