A federal three-judge panel added an element of uncertainty to the upcoming November elections when it ruled on Monday that North Carolina’s 2016 Congressional Redistricting Plan is unconstitutional. The ruling offers the possibility that North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts would be redrawn, that new primary elections would be held in November, and that our State’s congressional general elections would take place in January 2019 after the new Congress has been seated.
In its ruling, the court upheld a January finding that the congressional districts drawn by the NC General Assembly in 2016 constituted a partisan gerrymander that violated Article I of the Constitution, the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The January ruling had been vacated and remanded for reconsideration in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Gill v Whitford, which dealt with similar issues of partisan gerrymandering. In that case, the Supreme Court determined that the plaintiffs did not have legal standing. However, on Monday, the three-judge federal panel ruled that the North Carolina plaintiffs, unlike the plaintiffs in the Gill case, did have standing and that the January ruling should be upheld after all.
In the decision, the court suggests “it may be possible for the State to conduct a general election using a constitutionally compliant districting plan without holding primary elections.” Another possibility that the court suggests is conducting a primary election on November 6 under new districts, and conducting a general election in January 2019.
The decision is expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Due to time restraints, the need to print general election ballots, and other factors, many political observers expect that the current congressional districts will still be used in the upcoming fall elections on November 6.