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Arnold & Porter Scores State Supreme Court Victory in North Carolina Gerrymandering Lawsuit

February 7, 2022

Arnold & Porter secured another landmark voting rights victory in a case challenging North Carolina's congressional and state legislative maps as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled on February 4 that the North Carolina General Assembly must redraw new maps, applying strict nonpartisan criteria. The General Assembly must also offer a range of statistical analyses showing that the proposed new maps will provide voters of all political parties "equal opportunity to translate votes into seats."

"The U.S. Supreme Court said it's up to state courts to rein in partisan gerrymandering, and that's exactly what the North Carolina Supreme Court has done," partner Elisabeth Theodore told The New York Times. "The court's direction is clear: The General Assembly must stop cheating and draw fair new maps so that North Carolinians can have a fair say in who governs them."

The Arnold & Porter team brought the case in November on behalf of North Carolina voters, asserting that the maps' extreme and intentional partisan bias–for instance, locking in at least 10 of the state's 14 congressional seats for the Republican Party in an evenly divided state–violates the North Carolina Constitution. The case was litigated on an accelerated schedule, with all fact and expert discovery conducted in December, a four-day trial in early January, and full briefing, oral argument, and decision in the state supreme court in under a month.

In its ruling, the North Carolina Supreme Court adopted all of the plaintiffs' claims, holding that the challenged maps "are unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt under the free elections clause, the equal protection clause, the free speech clause, and the freedom of assembly clause of the North Carolina Constitution." Under these state constitutional provisions, the state high court held, a political map "must not diminish or dilute any individual's vote on the basis of party affiliation," and when the district lines are manipulated to "systematically make it harder for one group of voters to elect a governing majority," the map "unconstitutionally infringes upon that voter's fundamental right to vote."

The Arnold & Porter team initially prevailed on this issue in 2019 when a North Carolina three-judge trial court panel unanimously struck down North Carolina's state legislative maps as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders, and later enjoined the state's congressional map on the same grounds.

The Arnold & Porter team was led by partners Stanton Jones, Elisabeth Theodore, and senior associate Sam Callahan.