Raleigh, North Carolina — A panel of judges ruled on Monday that the new congressional map that Republican state lawmakers drew can be used in elections next year.
The judges ordered the Republican-controlled state legislature to draw new maps in October after deciding that it was “beyond a reasonable doubt that the 2016 congressional districts are extreme partisan gerrymanders” that make it easier for Republicans to win U.S. House races.
The new map effectively gives the Republican Party eight of North Carolina’s 13 congressional seats instead of the 10 it had before, according to The New York Times. Voters still challenged the latest version, but the three judges decided on Monday that there isn’t enough time in the election cycle to consider detailed redistricting arguments.
The ruling on the U.S. House district map comes months after the same judges struck down state House and Senate district maps due to similar concerns of political manipulation. When Republicans initially drew the maps, they made it clear they designed the maps to help their party. And they argued that doing so wasn’t unlawful.
The North Carolina primary is March 3, and candidate filing opened on Monday. The judges had suspended congressional filings while they reviewed the case, but the State Board of Elections can now start receiving filings from U.S. House hopefuls.
Another blow to redistricting reform
The case comes at a time when Republicans control the U.S. Senate but not the U.S. House and in a year when the U.S. Supreme Court has made it harder to fight partisan gerrymandering. In June, the nation’s highest court ruled that partisan gerrymandering is out of its jurisdiction. The decision was a blow to advocates of redistricting reform.
Efforts to reform redistricting are also struggling in legislatures. At least a dozen states introduced legislation this year to create independent redistricting commissions, which would make the process less political because it leaves voting maps up to a bipartisan group that limits the role of elected officials. But the bills failed in every state legislature.
However, if and when voters across the country weigh in on the issue in 2020, there could be a different outcome. Questions about creating an independent redistricting commission may appear on ballots in Arkansas, Oregon, South Dakota and Virginia.
And if independent redistricting commissions make it to the ballot in those states next year, there’s a good chance they will pass. According to a bipartisan poll by the Campaign Legal Center, at least 60% of Democrats, Republicans and independents support turning redistricting over to an independent commission.