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Experts, Plaintiff Weigh In On US Supreme Court's Decision Not To Hear NC Gerrymandering Case

Phil Roeder / Flickr

The United States Supreme Court has decided not to take on North Carolina’s partisan redistricting case for now. Instead, the justices are sending the dispute over the state’s Republican-drawn congressional district map back to the lower court.

The high court’s order references its ruling in a similar case from Wisconsin, in which it ordered the lower court in that case to examine the issue of standing — whether the plaintiffs have the right to bring their case in court. They ordered North Carolina’s three-judge panel who previously decided on the case to do the same.

Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer said he wasn’t surprised by the high court’s decision in light of recent rulings.

“The Wisconsin case along with the Maryland congressional district case really focused on the issue of standing,” Bitzer said. “They want to make sure North Carolina’s redistricting case also properly have the standing question resolved to address the core questions about redistricting.”

Guy Charles, a professor at Duke Law School, said the Wisconsin ruling now requires plaintiffs to prove injury district by district, not state-wide.

“Plaintiffs need to say that they were injured in each of the districts, either because their votes were diluted, they included too many of them on the basis of their political identity for partisan purposes or that they broke the district apart because of the plaintiff's political identities,” Charles said. 

He said the Wisconsin case, and the deferral of the North Carolina case back to the lower courts, signals the high court’s hesitancy to rule on partisan redistricting. 

“The court is really at an impasse now, so one question is whether the courts really want to hear these cases,” Charles said.

He said that as the Republican versus Democrat debate around partisan redistricting heats up, the high court may feel the need to step in. But, he added, months or even a year could go by before it decides to hear the case — if it ever does.

Allison Riggs is the lead counsel for the League of Women Voters, one of the North Carolina plaintiffs. She wasn’t surprised by today’s ruling. 

“We think when we go back to the three-judge panel, that we’ll be able to pretty quickly explain that we don’t have any of the standing problems that the Wisconsin [case] did,” Riggs said, “And nothing about the Wisconsin opinion in any way undermines the decision that the three-judge panel reached on the merits.” 

Riggs said she hopes to get the case back before the U.S. Supreme Court next term, in time for the 2020 elections.