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North Carolina: In what could signal a critical victory against Republican gerrymandering, a federal court panel overseeing the redrawing of North Carolina’s state legislative districts has appointed a nonpartisan “special master”—an independent redistricting expert who would craft new lines if the court rejects the GOP’s latest maps and decides it has to revise some districts itself. Earlier this year, this same court struck down 28 of the state’s 170 legislative districts because lawmakers had impermissibly relied on race to draw them, thus diluting the power of black voters. In response, the GOP passed new state Senate and state House gerrymanders, claiming they were instead relying purely on measures of partisanship. But if the court refuses to accept these new maps, that would be a major boon for black voters and could consequently lead to Democrats winning more seats in 2018.​​​

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​To be clear, the court has not yet formally rejected any of the GOP’s redrawn districts. However, the judges’ order appointing the special master, Stanford Law professor Nathan Persily, expressed concern that two Senate districts (including the Fayetteville-area 21st District shown at the top of this post) and seven House districts might “either fail to remedy the identified constitutional violation” or be “otherwise legally unacceptable,” and even said that such a finding of invalidity was “likely.”

Redrawing these problematic districts would consequently involve changes to some of neighboring seats, too, which would be the best outcome that the plaintiffs could hope for. The maps in question were still aggressively gerrymandered to preserve the GOP’s ill-gotten veto-proof majorities in the legislature, but fairer maps could prove critical to Democratic chances of breaking that hammerlock, which would finally allow them to sustain Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes. That’s a very distinct possibility, because Democrats only need to gain four seats in the 120-member House to do so.

If the district court does indeed redraw some of these districts, Republican legislators may once again appeal to the Supreme Court in an effort to drag things out past 2018. However, the high court has already ruled against the GOP previously in this suit: Earlier this year, it upheld the lower court ruling that struck down the original 2011 gerrymanders. Ultimately, North Carolina appears to be one step closer to having fairer legislative districts that allow Democrats to place a check on a state Republican Party that has gone to extremes to undermine the democratic process.

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