Washington — The state Supreme Court will get to review congressional and legislative voting maps for a third time after the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday sent a redistricting lawsuit back to the state in the wake of a recent ruling.
A group of Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups sued in 2011 over maps drawn by the Republican-controlled General Assembly after the 2010 census, alleging that they packed too many black voters into certain U.S. House, state House and state Senate districts, thereby reducing minority voting power in other districts, and divided counties and precincts between different districts unnecessarily.
The state Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that the maps met the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act and were legal. A few months after that, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out that ruling and asked the state court to take a second look at the maps in light of a ruling in an Alabama case, where the U.S. court determined that lawmakers in that state had relied too heavily on the race of voters when drawing voting maps.
A year after the first state Supreme Court ruling, the justices again upheld the maps as legal, ruling that voters' race was a factor in drawing district lines but not the predominant factor.
Last week, in a separate lawsuit, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that North Carolina lawmakers had relied too much on race to create the 1st Congressional District, in the northeast part of the state, and the 12th Congressional District, which snaked along Interstate 85 between Charlotte and Greensboro.
So the high court once again threw out the state Supreme Court's findings and sent the original redistricting case back to Raleigh for another look in light of the latest ruling. It's unclear when that hearing will be held.
"Our clients are hopeful that the N.C. Supreme Court will follow federal law and recognize these districts for what they are: unconstitutional racial gerrymanders," Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said in a statement. "The North Carolina Supreme Court should take action swiftly to require the immediate implementation of fair districts for all North Carolina voters."
Lawmakers redrew the congressional voting map last year after a lower court ruled against the 2011 districts, and the new map was used in last year's election. No new map has been drawn for legislative districts yet.
A lawsuit challenging specific state House and state Senate districts based on the same rationale as used in the lawsuit that challenged the two congressional districts is still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision on that case is expected soon.