Mapmaker, Mapmaker

N.C. Supreme Court’s rejection of congressional map creates opening for Kathy Manning

The decision provides a glimmer of hope for the freshman representative, whose district was carved up in the Republican-majority General Assembly’s map

Gerry Broome/AP

Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC)

The North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision last week to throw out the state’s new congressional and General Assembly maps gives Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC), whose district was eliminated during the redistricting process, new hope that she may see a second term in Congress.

According to the high court, the maps, drawn by North Carolina’s Republican-controlled General Assembly, violated multiple clauses of the state’s constitution. 

The proposed congressional map would have significantly shifted the state’s congressional delegation from an 8-5 Republican advantage. The map, which would have given Republicans the advantage in an additional two districts, cleaved Manning’s (D-NC) home county and current district into three GOP-friendly seats, functionally eliminating it.

Manning, who said recently that she expected that the Supreme Court would throw out the congressional map, called the ruling “a victory for democracy and North Carolina voters.”

“As the maps are redrawn, it is imperative that the new maps reflect the full intent of this decision and the will of the people,” Manning tweeted. “Voters should choose their representatives; politicians should not choose their voters.”

The state Supreme Court’s decision sets up a scramble to finalize the state’s maps. The General Assembly and the plaintiff groups that challenged the maps have until Feb. 18 to file their own proposals. At that point, the trial court that initially heard the case will have until Feb. 23 to make a final decision, ahead of the start date for candidate filing on Feb. 24.

“We’re going to know something, we’re going to know it relatively soon, but we don’t know what we’re going to know,” Christopher Cooper, director of the public policy institute at Western Carolina University told Jewish Insider, summing up the current state of affairs.

The court has several options for deciding on the final map: It can adopt the General Assembly’s new map, it can accept a map submitted by one of the plaintiffs or it can appoint an independent expert, known as a special master, to draw yet another map, Cooper said.

The General Assembly said Monday it would submit new maps by the deadline, but what those maps might look like is unknown.

J. Michael Bitzer, a politics professor at Catawba College in Salisbury, said he expects that the new General Assembly maps will likely be substantively different from and less skewed toward Republicans than the ones being challenged — although Republicans would likely keep their majority status.

“I think they would have to change things because… the current maps, the ones that were struck down, would have had the potential of electing supermajorities to the General Assembly and would have probably elected at least 10 Republicans — if it was a good Republican year maybe 11 — to the U.S. House of Representatives,” he said. “That outcome, I think, is what the court was saying, ‘Try again.’”

Cooper added that the addition of a new congressional district this cycle makes it difficult to predict the General Assembly’s new proposal. Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s (R-NC) decision to run in the 13th District — effectively boxing out state House Speaker Tim Moore, who had hoped to run for the seat — further complicates matters. Cawthorn does not live in the newly drawn 13th district.

“Because of that, it’s hard to even say who you’d be drawing districts for,” Cooper said.

In its brief to the state Supreme Court, the General Assembly also hinted at plans to potentially appeal the ruling on congressional maps to the U.S. Supreme Court, Bitzer said. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a previous case in 2019 on partisan gerrymandering from North Carolina, saying it did not have jurisdiction. This case would raise a direct constitutional question, likely precluding such an outcome.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld, in a 5-4 vote, Alabama’s Republican-drawn map, which a lower court had found discriminated against Black voters.

The three-judge trial court panel that will determine North Carolina’s final map rejected initial challenges, which were appealed to the state Supreme Court. The trial court’s decision on which map to adopt could itself be appealed.

Should that happen, the state’s primary elections, currently scheduled for May 17, are likely to be delayed given the tight timeline, Bitzer said. The state Supreme Court already postponed the primary, initially set for March 8, in response to the litigation. Republicans in the state legislature sought last month to postpone the primary to June 7, a proposal that was vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat.