Because of the GOP gerrymander, Republicans currently hold 10 of the state’s 13 congressional districts.
Democrats celebrated the court’s action. Marc Elias, the prominent Democratic election lawyer working on the case, called the ruling “a major victory for the voters of North Carolina,” who “will finally be able to vote in constitutional districts for 2020.”
Added Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee: “North Carolina just took an important step in the fight to ensure congressional maps are not drawn to protect politicians, but rather to ensure fair representation for the people living in each and every district.”
Members of the North Carolina GOP delegation seemed resigned to the fact that a new map would likely dwindle their numbers.
“Fundamentally, it would be very, very difficult to keep 10 Republican seats. Nine is certainly possible. Eight is probably the magic number with the redraw,” said GOP Rep. David Rouzer, who noted he’s run under two different maps during his three elections.
The surging growth of the state’s cities and suburbs, he said, could complicate the ability to create GOP-friendly seats.
“You have counties like Wake County, Mecklenburg County, Guilford County — those are growing less and less conservative by the day,” Rouzer said. “Political demographics are changing.”
A redrawn map could create member-vs.-member races or thrust members in safe seats into competitive territory. Republican Rep. George Holding, who beat then-GOP Rep. Renee Ellmers when they were drawn into the same district in 2016, said he expects the court to strike down the current map and didn’t rule out retiring as a result.
“I would certainly look at the district that’s available and figure out if I’m a good fit for that district. I’m not going to change my voting pattern or political philosophies to fit a district,” Holding said Monday night. “If I don’t have a district to run in, that kind of forecloses running.”
But any new map would be in effect for only one election, as all states with more than one congressional district are required to redraw their maps following the 2020 Census.
If the map is ultimately struck down, it would mark the second time this decade North Carolina has been forced to redraw its congressional districts. The state’s first map, which was approved by legislators in 2011, was struck down by courts as an improper racial gerrymander and redrawn in 2016.
The 2016 map was challenged in federal court as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, but the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that partisan gerrymandering claims have no business before federal courts. That led Democrats seeking to challenge GOP-drawn maps to file suit in state courts.
Eric Holder, the Obama-era attorney general who now leads the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said it’s “an important victory for voters in the state.” His group is helping to pay the plaintiffs’ legal bills through its nonprofit arm.
“For nearly a decade, Republicans have forced the people of North Carolina to vote in districts that were manipulated for their own partisan advantage,” Holder said. “Now — finally — the era of Republican gerrymandering in the state is coming to an end.”