Raleigh, N.C. — A panel of three federal judges on Thursday rejected complaints over a new congressional district map that state lawmakers drew in February after the judges ruled the previous map was unconstitutional.
The latest ruling means the new map will be in place for next Tuesday's congressional primary.
After the judges said lawmakers relied too much on the race of potential voters when they drew the boundaries of two of North Carolina's 13 U.S. House districts in 2011, lawmakers created new maps that completely ignored race and focused on party affiliation and voting patterns, as well as not splitting counties between districts.
Lawyers for the three voters who sued over the 2011 map argued that the "partisan gerrymander" in the new map was similarly unconstitutional.
"Following today's decision by the Middle District of North Carolina, we continue to urge voters to get out and vote on primary day," said State Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Strach.
The judges said they don't like the idea of such gerrymandering, but that "the Court's hands appear to be tied" by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a similar case that found "no judicially discernible and manageable standards" for handling such maneuvers. They also noted that the plaintiffs didn't provide a standard they might apply in the case, so they had to deny the objection to the new map.
"The Court's denial of the plaintiffs' objections does not constitute or imply an endorsement of, or foreclose any additional challenges to, the Contingent Congressional Plan," the judges wrote in the eight-page opinion.
"We are pleased to see that once again our maps have been upheld as fair, legal and constitutional," Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, and Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, the leaders of the General Assembly's redistricting effort, said in a statement. "North Carolinians will now have the chance to have their votes counted with confidence during the June 7th congressional primary."
Irving Joyner, an attorney for the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, said the judges may have helped move the argument to a bigger stage.
"How far can a legislative body go in creating a partisan advantage, where you look for, as a matter of fundamental rights, some fairness in the election progress?" Joyner said.