CASE SUMMARY

On September 27, 2019, a group of North Carolinian residents and voters filed a lawsuit against members of the North Carolina State Board of Elections and various state legislators, challenging the state's 2016 congressional redistricting plan as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander under the North Carolina Constitution. The plaintiffs alleged that the General Assembly drew the maps with the intent to maximize Republican advantage in violation of the North Carolina Constitution's Free Elections Clause, Equal Protection Clause, and Freedom of Speech and Assembly Clauses. They requested that the court enjoin the defendants from administering, preparing, or moving forward with the 2020 primary and general elections for Congress using the 2016 plan and to establish a new, lawful congressional redistricting plan if the General Assembly failed to do so in a timely manner. Additionally, the plaintiffs asked the court to enjoin the defendants from using past election results or other political data in any future congressional redistricting of the state so as to intentionally dilute the voting power of citizens based on their political beliefs, party affiliation, or past votes.

On October 14, 2019, the legislative defendants removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, but the district court remanded the case back to the Wake County Superior Court on October 22, 2019. On October 28, 2019, the Superior Court granted the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, barring the defendants from using the 2016 plan for the upcoming 2020 primary and general elections and delaying the primary candidate filing period until further order of the court. On November 15, 2019, the General Assembly passed a new congressional redistricting plan on its own initiative. On December 2, 2019, the Superior Court lifted its preliminary injunction, thereby allowing the 2020 congressional elections to proceed under the newly enacted congressional plan.


On November 5, 2021, the plaintiffs filed a supplemental complaint challenging North Carolina's newly enacted congressional redistricting plan as violating the state constitution, in addition to renewed their challenge to the 2016 congressional plan. Advancing largely the same claims as in the 2016 plan challenge, the plaintiffs assert that the 2021 congressional plan is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander drawn to advantage Republicans and disadvantage Democrats. They allege that the 2021 plan's partisan nature violates the N.C. Constitution's Free Elections Clause (Art. I, Section 10), Equal Protection Clause (Art. I, Section 19), and Freedom of Speech and Assembly Clauses (Art. I, Sections 12 & 14). They are seeking a judicial declaration that the 2016 and 2021 plans are both unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders, an injunction barring the defendants from implementing or utilizing the plans in future elections and barring them from utilizing political data or intentionally diluting the voting power of citizens based on their political affiliations in future redistricting processes, and for the court to cause the adoption of a new, constitutionally valid redistricting plan.

On December 3, 2021, the trial court issued an order consolidating this case with another challenge to North Carolina's congressional and legislative redistricting plans, North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, Inc. v. Hall. On December 8, 2021, the N.C. Supreme Court issued an order granting a preliminary injunction and temporarily staying the candidate-filing period for the 2022 elections until a final judgment on the merits of the plaintiffs' claims, including any appeals, has been ordered. The consolidated trial for these cases concluded on January 6, 2022.

On January 11, 2022 the superior court issued its ruling rejecting the plaintiffs' various claims and upholding the plans as valid. The court, citing the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Common Cause v. Rucho that partisan gerrymandering claims are non-justiciable political questions beyond the reach of federal courts, held that partisan gerrymandering claims are also non-justiciable political questions that do not violate the North Carolina Constitution's Free Elections, Equal Protection, Freedom of Speech, or Freedom of Assembly Clauses. The court also rejected the plaintiffs' allegations of racial gerrymandering and vote dilution under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, finding that the plaintiffs failed to establish that race was the predominant consideration in the creation of the challenged districts or that racially polarized voting existed in the challenged districts. Finally, the court held that the plans also did not violate the North Carolina Constitution's Whole County Provision because when counties were divided, it was predominantly for traditional and permissible redistricting considerations, including for partisan advantage. The plaintiffs appealed the superior Court's judgment to the North Carolina Supreme Court on January 12, 2022.

On February 4, 2022 the North Carolina Supreme Court issued an order striking down the enacted congressional and legislative plans as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders under the state's Free Elections Clause, Equal Protection Clause, and Freedom of Speech and Assembly Clauses. The Court adopted the trial court's factual finding that the General Assembly diluted the voting power of Democratic voters on the basis of their political affiliation and, applying strict scrutiny, held the goal of a disproportionate partisan advantage was not a compelling or legitimate governmental interest. The Court ordered the General Assembly to submit remedial maps that comply with the state's constitutional redistricting criteria to the trial court by February 18, 2022, in addition to an explanation of the data and methods used to create and evaluate the plans. The Court also established a February 23 deadline for the trial court to approve or adopt final remedial congressional and legislative plans. The Court released its full opinion on February 14, 2022. The General Assembly passed remedial congressional and legislative plans and submitted them to the court on February 18.

On February 23, the superior court panel issued an order approving the General Assembly's remedial legislative plans but rejecting the remedial congressional plan on the grounds it failed the satisfy the partisan metrics laid out in the Supreme Court's opinion. The court instead ordered the adoption of the interim congressional plan prepared by the court-appointed special masters for use in the 2022 congressional elections. The defendants appealed this ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court two days later by filing an emergency application for a stay pending a petition for a writ of certiorari. The U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition on March 7, 2022. The defendants filed their full petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court on March 17.

CASE LIBRARY

North Carolina Superior Court, Wake County - No. 19-cvs-12667 [Harper v. Lewis]

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina - No. 5:19-cv-452 [Harper v. Lewis Appeal]

North Carolina Superior Court, Wake County - No. 21-cvs-500085 [Harper v. Hall] [together with No. 21-cvs-15426]

North Carolina Supreme Court - No. 413P21

North Carolina Superior Court, Wake County - No. 21-CVS-500085 [Remedial Phase]

North Carolina Supreme Court - No. 413P21 [Remedial Appeal]

U.S. Supreme Court - No. 21-1271 [Moore v. Harper] [Formerly No. 21A455]