Update September 1: While the district court had said it might consider implementing new districts this year, that’s unlikely, as the plaintiffs told the court in a Friday filing that doing so would be too disruptive.
A panel of three federal judges held Monday that North Carolina’s congressional districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans over Democrats and said it may require new districts before the November elections, possibly affecting control of the House.
The judges acknowledged that primary elections have already produced candidates for the 2018 elections but said they were reluctant to let voting take place in congressional districts that courts twice have found violate constitutional standards.
North Carolina legislators are likely to ask the Supreme Court to step in. The court traditionally does not approve of judicial actions that can affect an election so close to the day voters go to the polls.
“We continue to lament that North Carolina voters now have been deprived of a constitutional congressional districting plan — and, therefore, constitutional representation in Congress — for six years and three election cycles,” the court’s opinion reads. “To the extent allowing the General Assembly another opportunity to draw a remedial plan would further delay electing representatives under a constitutional districting plan, that delay weighs heavily against giving the General Assembly another such opportunity.”
The court proposed several unusual ideas: appointing a special master to draw new districts, holding general elections without party primaries or even turning the November elections into a primary and holding the general election sometime before the new Congress convenes in January.
Wynn and his fellow judges called for immediate briefing from the parties about which remedy to pursue. The Supreme Court has never found that a state’s redistricting was so infected with politics that it was unconstitutional but now it may have to make a decision — with only eight Justices on the bench.