US Supreme Court ruling backs Republican congressional maps in North Carolina

Demonstrators rally in front of the Supreme court before oral arguments on Benisek v. Lamone, a redistricting case on whether Democratic lawmakers in Maryland unlawfully drew a congressional district in a way that would prevent a Republican candidate from winning, in Washington, U.S., March 28, 2018. (Reuters pic)

WASHINGTON: Dealing a setback to Democrats on Monday, the US Supreme Court threw out a lower court’s ruling that Republicans lawmakers in North Carolina drew congressional district boundaries to ensure lopsided victories for their own party, violating Democratic voters’ constitutional rights.

The justices sent the case back to a federal three-judge panel to reconsider whether the plaintiffs, including a group of Democratic voters, have the necessary legal standing to sue in the case involving a contentious practice called partisan gerrymandering.

The Supreme Court put on hold the lower court’s order that a new map be drawn, leaving the Republican-drawn districts in place for congressional elections in November, giving a boost to Republicans in their bid to maintain control of the House.

The three-judge panel in Greensboro, North Carolina ruled unanimously in January that the Republican-drawn map of North Carolina’s 13 US House of Representatives districts violated the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law. Two of the judges found it also ran afoul of the Constitution by discriminating based on political belief and association.

The high court on June 18 declined to issue a major ruling in two high-profile cases from Wisconsin and Maryland that could have curbed the ability of state lawmakers to draw electoral districts purely for partisan advantage.

Election reformers in both parties had hoped the Supreme Court would use the Wisconsin and Maryland cases to crack down on partisan gerrymandering, but it decided both on narrow and procedural grounds. Chief Justice John Roberts indicated a more comprehensive ruling could come in a future case.

The North Carolina case could make its way back to the Supreme Court within months if the lower court decides that the plaintiffs are still entitled to sue.

With partisan gerrymandering, the political party that controls a state legislature uses the process of redrawing electoral districts after the US census every decade to tighten its grip on power by diluting the influence of voters who tend to back the rival party.