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Should lawmakers be able to draw district maps for political advantage?

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- When it comes to drawing representative’s district lines based on race, there are clear rules that say that isn’t OK. But what if politicians draw these lines based on political belief? That’s the question at the center of a federal trial, which wrapped up Thursday afternoon in Greensboro.

Voter advocacy groups including the League of Women Voters and Common Cause say drawing district lines for partisan advantage is what’s called viewpoint discrimination, and claim it violates minority party voters' constitutional rights.

In this case, they’re challenging the North Carolina General Assembly, which under state law is in charge of drawing congressional district maps. The General Assembly is made of a supermajority of Republicans in North Carolina, giving them the ability to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes.

The plaintiffs in this case believe lawmakers drew lines to split up Democratic votes, or corner them into single districts, to dilute their representation in congress. In the 2016 election, Republicans outvoted Democrats in house races 53% to 47%, but took 10 of the 13 North Carolina House seats. The plaintiffs say that unproportionate outcome is the product of political gerrymandering.

They argue that process is violating North Carolina Democratic voters' constitutional rights, specifically their 1st and 14th Amendment rights, including the right to equal protection under the law.

Lawyers for the North Carolina General Assembly argue they are following state law, that clearly gives lawmakers the ability to draw these maps, as long as they do not do so based on race. There is also no precedent specifically banning political gerrymandering, in fact NCGA lawyers argued there are cases where things like keeping incumbents in their districts and politics are accepted criteria in the redistricting process.

They argue political elections are unpredictable, as there are many factors like incumbents dropping out, candidate funding and more. Lawyers argued using political data to influence map making doesn’t have an absolute outcome on the election, because people vote for candidates and not always based on party affiliation.

The Supreme Court has already heard arguments for a similar political gerrymandering case in Wisconsin. That could have an impact on this ruling, but regardless the North Carolina case could set major precedent. A panel of three judges will come out with a ruling at a later date.