North Carolina court strikes down state legislative map as unconstitutional gerrymander

(Reuters) – A North Carolina court on Tuesday struck down the Republican-drawn state legislative map as an illegal gerrymander and gave lawmakers two weeks to enact new district lines for next year’s elections.

A three-judge panel in Wake County Superior Court said the state Senate and state House district lines discriminated against Democratic voters in violation of the state constitution’s free elections, equal protection and free speech clauses.

In a decision running more than 350 pages, the judges said Republican state legislators had employed “surgical precision” to dilute Democratic voters’ strength, ensuring their party would control both chambers of the legislature “in all but the most unusual election scenarios.”

“The 2017 enacted maps, as drawn, do not permit voters to freely choose their representative, but rather representatives are choosing voters based upon sophisticated partisan sorting,” the court wrote after hearing evidence during a trial in July.

The case was the first to reach trial since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that federal courts have no authority to curb partisan gerrymandering – the practice of drawing electoral maps to benefit one political party over another.

But the Supreme Court decision explicitly did not bar state courts from evaluating gerrymandering cases based on state constitutions, which sometimes have language that goes further than the federal version. North Carolina’s constitution, for instance, has a free elections clause, which has no counterpart in the U.S. constitution.

Government reformers have already signaled their intent to file more cases in state court.

Reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot

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