By Rob Tyson

In North Carolina v. Covington, the United State Supreme Court upheld the three-judge panel decision that 28 of North Carolina state House of Representative and Senate districts were drawn as racial gerrymanders in violation of the equal protection clause.[1]  However, the Supreme Court reversed the district court ruling ordering newly drawn districts and special elections for the new districts by fall of 2017.

After the 2010 census, the North Carolina legislature redrew its state House and Senate districts.  Plaintiffs alleged 28 of the majority-black districts in the newly crafted plan comprised racial gerrymandered districts.  The three-judge panel agreed and threw-out these districts.  Further, the trial court ordered the state legislature to draw new districts and hold a special election by fall of 2017.  The trial court reasoned, “while special elections have costs, these costs pale in comparison to the fact that citizens will have legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander.”  The US Supreme Court held this analysis was not sufficient; thus, the Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court to develop an appropriate remedy for the illegally drawn districts.

Potential Impact

The only remaining fireworks will be the parties arguing about the time period necessary to redraw the districts and then the timing of the subsequent election for the new districts. Plaintiffs will seek to convince the three-judge panel to mandate the legislature redraw the districts right away, with special elections to follow shortly thereafter.  The state legislature will argue against holding elections in 2017.  At the end of the day, there will be 28 new districts.

[1] North Carolina v. Covington, June 5, 2017 Slip Copy 2017 WL 2407467. See here.