The New York Times, September 4, 2019: Three North Carolina judges step in where the Supreme Court refuses
Three state judges on a North Carolina trial court just did what a majority on the United States Supreme Court said was impossible only a few months ago — apply well-established legal standards to strike down some of the most egregious partisan gerrymanders in the country.
The state court judges’ 357-page ruling applies to the North Carolina state legislature, the General Assembly, which now has two weeks to come up with new, fairer maps for state legislative districts. It also sends a broader message to the justices in Washington, and to state judges everywhere: See? Protecting democracy from self-interested, power-hungry politicians isn’t so hard after all.
The existing maps were so effective that they helped entrench Republican majorities even when Democrats won more votes statewide. In 2018, Republican candidates for North Carolina’s House of Representatives won less than 50% of the two-party statewide vote, but walked away with 65 seats to the Democrats’ 55. Republican candidates for the State Senate also won a minority of the popular vote, and still took 29 of 50 seats.
On Tuesday afternoon, the North Carolina judges — two Democrats and a Republican — agreed unanimously that they didn’t need the federal Constitution to vindicate Americans’ basic democratic rights. They could rely on their state’s own Constitution, which guarantees, among other things, free elections, equal protection and freedom of speech and assembly — all of which they said the Republicans’ maps violated.