North Carolina v. Covington

Justia Summary

The North Carolina General Assembly redrew state legislative districts in 2011 to account for population changes revealed by the 2010 census. Plaintiffs alleged that 28 majority-black districts in the new plan were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The district court ruled for the plaintiffs in August 2016, declined to require changes before the November 2016 election, but ordered the General Assembly to redraw the map. Three weeks after the November 2016 election, the court set a March 2017 deadline for drawing new districts, ordering that “[t]he term of any legislator elected in 2016” from a district later redrawn would be replaced by new ones, to be chosen in court-ordered special elections in fall, 2017, to serve a one-year term. The court suspended provisions of the North Carolina Constitution requiring prospective legislators to reside within a district for one year before they may be elected to represent it. The Supreme Court granted a stay pending appeal and subsequently vacated the remedial order. Relief in redistricting cases is “‘fashioned in the light of well-known principles of equity.’” The district court “addressed the balance of equities in only the most cursory fashion.” In determining whether or when a special election may be a proper remedy for a racial gerrymander, obvious considerations include the severity and nature of the particular constitutional violation, the extent of the likely disruption to the ordinary processes of governance if early elections are imposed, and the need to act with proper judicial restraint when intruding on state sovereignty.