Common Cause v. Lewis

The “New Oxford Dictionary” defines gerrymandering as “the act of manipulating the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class.” Those who follow North Carolina politics have been discussing this practice for a while. The realignment of the state’s congressional districts in 2017 was ruled by the US Supreme Court as unconstitutional in their “Rucho v. Common Cause” ruling earlier this year. However, the high court maintained that they had little authority to police this type of redistricting, that they would rely on the state courts to do that.

In September, the North Carolina ruled in “Common Cause v. Lewis” that the 2017 redistricting in the state was contrary to the state’s Constitution and, the “Russo” ruling notwithstanding, the state courts did have the authority to enforce the redistricting provisions of the state Constitution. In particular, the state court…

1. Pointed out the ways that the North Carolina State Constitution goes beyond the outline set out by the federal Constitution on this issue.

2. Offered a different interpretation of similar language in the North Carolina Constitution to that of the Federal Constitution. For example, they said, “North Carolina’s Equal Protection Clause provides greater protection for voting rights than federal equal protection provisions. . . . North Carolina courts can and do interpret even ‘identical terms’ in the State’s Constitution more broadly than their federal counterparts.”

3. Maintained that the redistricting issue was a legal one, not a political one. Unlike the “Rucho” ruling, which maintained that the North Carolina redistricting was a political issue, the North Carolina state court maintained that the 2017 structure violated state law.

It’s important to note that this may not be the final word on this issue. The North Carolina Supreme Court could overrule the “Lewis” ruling. (Since the “Lewis” ruling is based on an “adequate and independent” state-law ground, there is no possibility of a federal court overturning the ruling. ) However, the North Carolina Attorney General has no plans to appeal the “Lewis” ruling in the North Carolina Supreme Court at this time.