Raleigh, N.C. — A trio of good-government groups have filed a lawsuit challenging North Carolina's newly drawn congressional boundaries and proposing a test for whether a district map gives too big of an advantage to one political party over another.
In a federal lawsuit filed Thursday, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Campaign Legal Center argue that politics played too big of a role when North Carolina lawmakers drew new congressional lines this spring. The two groups filed the suit on behalf of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina.
"The Constitution guarantees everyone’s right to participate equally in an electoral system that does not discriminate against them because of their beliefs," said Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. "It's clear that the intent and effect of creating North Carolina’s 2016 congressional maps were to manipulate the democratic process. The result disparages voters and ensures that one party can maintain political power even when a majority of the state’s voters do not support them."
Republican legislative leaders have consistently maintained that they are entitled to rely on partisan criteria when drawing the state's 13 congressional districts. And they point out that the map the lawsuit challenges cleaves fewer local precincts in two, a key point of contention for many when the maps were first drawn.
"No matter how many costly and duplicative lawsuits special interest groups continue to file against our Congressional map, it doesn’t change the fact that it splits fewer counties and fewer precincts than any map in modern state history – it just may not elect enough Democrats for their liking," read a joint statement from Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, and Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, the architects of the Congressional redistricting plan.
North Carolina's Republican-held General Assembly first redrew the state's congressional maps in 2011. Those maps provoked immediate lawsuits, but the courts took years to decide the case. In February, a three-judge federal panel struck down the 2011 maps as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.
Lawmakers redrew those maps, making them more compact but retaining a 10-3 Republican advantage. Those lines have since been accepted by the three-judge panel that forced the redraw. The new lines are in play for this fall's general election. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court has said it will review the February decision that struck down the 2011 maps.
As that case simmered this summer, Common Cause filed a lawsuit arguing that partisanship played too much of a role in the construction of the new maps. That suit argued that a map that splits the state between 10 Republican-leaning seats and three Democratic-leaning seats misrepresents a state that is more closely divided between the two parties.
The Southern Coalition suit goes one step further than Common Cause, suggesting the courts adopt a method of determining when a district is too partisan.
Called an efficiency gap analysis, the method calculates the difference in respective wasted votes in an election, divided by the total number of votes cast. Roughly speaking, wasted votes are those cast for losing candidates or those cast for winning candidates in excess of those needed to win.
"Packing and cracking voters in districts based on their political ideology and voting history classifies voters in an invidious manner unrelated to any legitimate legislative objective," said Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center. "Radical partisan gerrymandering like that in this case turns democracy on its head."