Supreme Court allows most disputed maps in North Carolina and Texas gerrymandering cases to be used

United States Supreme Court building (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday ruled on two highly anticipated gerrymandering cases in Texas and North Carolina, in orders that mean most of the controversial maps in both states will likely be used this fall’s midterm elections.

The court upheld three of four district maps in Texas that critics argued intentionally discriminated against minority voters, but struck down one.

In North Carolina, it wiped away a lower court opinion that had invalidated congressional maps there as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

The decision on Monday marked yet another step by the Supreme Court on gerrymandering cases. Last week, the court punted on alleged gerrymandering in Wisconsin and Maryland, allowing the maps to stand for now.

“The common thread in the court’s gerrymandering decisions this term has been to generally make it harder for plaintiffs to bring these claims,” said CNN legal analyst and University of Texas Law School professor Steve Vladeck, “and to generally allow states more flexibility and deference in drawing congressional and state district lines.”

The Texas case divided the justices by 5-4, splitting them along conservative-liberal lines. The court appeared closely divided on the case in April and split 5-4 last fall when it opted to freeze a lower court opinion invalidating two congressional districts and state house districts in four counties.

In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said all but one of the disputed districts reviewed were lawful. “There is nothing to suggest that the Legislature proceeded in bad faith, ” Alito wrote.

In a blistering dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the court went “out of its way to permit the State of Texas to use maps that the three-judge District Court unanimously found were adopted for the purpose of preserving the racial discrimination that tainted its previous maps.”

North Carolina

In an unsigned order Monday, the court struck down a lower court opinion that had invalidated congressional maps in North Carolina as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander and instructed the lower court to revisit the case in light of the Supreme Court’s recent opinion concerning maps in Wisconsin.

Although a lower court had invalidated the maps, the Supreme Court had stayed that order, and they will likely be used in the next election.

In the Wisconsin case, Gill v. Whitford, a 9-0 court held that challengers could not bring the challenge because they had failed to prove “concrete and particularized” injury that would demonstrate that their right to vote had been burdened. By ruling on procedural grounds, the justices dodged a ruling on whether courts can hear such challenges in the first place.