On Tuesday, Jan. 9, a panel of federal judges struck down North Carolina's congressional map.The judges ruled that the map was unconstitutional on the grounds that the map was drawn in favor of the Republican Party, a practice known as gerrymandering. The ruling is historic for being the first time a federal court has blocked a congressional map for partisan gerrymandering.
Judge James A. Wynn Jr. wrote in the court's opinion that the state's legislature was "motivated by invidious partisan intent" in drawing the congressional map. The panel of judges ruled that the North Carolina legislature had until Jan. 24, to redraw the congressional map to be approved by the court. If the legislature failed to do so the judges would take it upon themselves to redraw the congressional districts.
Dallas Woodhouse, chair of the state's Republican party, criticized the ruling calling it a "hostile takeover" on his twitter.
If North Carolina Republicans decided to appeal the decision to the United States Supreme Court it would join claims against Wisconsin Republicans and Maryland Democrats of partisan gerrymandering. The Supreme Court has struggled for decades on establishing a precedent on gerrymandering.
So, What is Gerrymandering?
Gerrymandering is the practice of establishing the boundaries of voting districts in the favor of one group. Though a state or region may be split evenly between political parties or racial groups, district lines could be drawn to give one group supermajorities, a number far larger than 50 percent, in fewer districts than the number of districts another group has smaller majorities in. Even though the region is evenly split a large number of one group into a small number of districts means the other group is able to get a simple majority, just over 50 percent, in a larger number of districts and, since in the United States that's all you need to win, it means more representatives of that group is elected.
District maps in the United States are usually drawn by the state's legislature. This means that taking control of a state legislature can lead to a party drawing a map in favor of their party in order to increase control of the state legislature and congressional districts.
How Can Gerrymandering be Prevented?
While there are a number of ways proposed to prevent gerrymandering, including increasing the number of voting rounds or the number of representatives a district votes for, the solution chosen by voters in California is the establishment of non-partisan or bi-partisan agencies that draw district lines rather than the state legislature. In 2008 California voters passed Proposition 11 which established the California Citizens Redistricting Commission in order to draw district maps for the state senate, assembly and board of equalization. When voters passed Proposition 20 in 2010 the commission was tasked with also drawing the map for congressional districts as well.
What Happens Now?
As said before, North Carolina Republicans could appeal the case to the United States Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court takes up the case then they could set a new precedent to determine if district maps unconstitutionally favor one party over the other. Such a ruling could reshape the political landscape across the country.