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ASU Assistant Professor and Political Scientist Weighs in on North Carolina Redistricting Ruling

Dr. William Hicks Photo by Marie Freeman

BOONE, N.C.—Federal judges’ decision Tuesday that Republicans unconstitutionally gerrymandered two North Carolina congressional districts in 2016 puts increasing pressure on the U.S. Supreme Court to make “a clearer ruling” about gerrymandering, according to an Appalachian State University political science professor.

“Yesterday’s ruling is significant because it now marks the second time in recent history the courts have invalidated a congressional or state legislative map on the basis of partisan gerrymandering,” said Dr. William Hicks, assistant professor in the Department of Government and Justice Studies. He studies state legislatures and redistricting, among other aspects of American politics.

According to the Raleigh News & Observer, a panel of judges decided Tuesday, Jan. 9, that Republicans’ restricting plan violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. N.C. lawmakers have been given until Jan. 29 to develop new maps to correct the problem, according to the newspaper.

The first time such a ruling was made was in the 2016 decision of Gill v. Whitford in the U.S. District Court for the Western District in Wisconsin, Hicks said. The case stemmed from Republican lawmakers’ plan affecting election results for the Wisconsin state legislature. After being challenged by Democrats, the plan was struck down by the state district court. That decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard the case in October 2017 and is expected to make a ruling this year.

“Even though federal courts have been willing to invalidate maps that disadvantage racial or ethnic groups, in the past they have permitted maps that disadvantage a party. It is still not clear why judges may now intervene in cases of partisan gerrymandering,” Hicks said.

Hicks said three possible reasons may have contributed to judges’ recent intervention: social scientists have better evidence and measures of partisan gerrymandering, there is growing public opposition to partisan gerrymandering, or there is an increasing egregiousness of gerrymandering by mapmakers, who are usually state legislators.

“Nevertheless, these cases put increasing pressure on the Supreme Court to make a clearer ruling about how lower courts should treat cases of partisan gerrymandering in the future. The court’s upcoming decision in Gill v. Whitford may in fact seek to do just this,” Hicks said.

About the Department of Government and Justice Studies

Appalachian State University’s Department of Government and Justice Studies offers undergraduate programs in political science and criminal justice, and graduate programs in political science and public administration. Housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, the department has over 600 undergraduate majors and more than 70 graduate students. Learn more at https://gjs.appstate.edu

About the College of Arts and Sciences

The College of Arts and Sciences is home to 16 academic departments, two stand-alone academic programs, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities and the social, mathematical and natural sciences. The College of Arts and Sciences aims to develop a distinctive identity built upon our university’s strengths, traditions and unique location. Our values lie not only in service to the university and local community, but through inspiring, training, educating and sustaining the development of our students as global citizens. There are approximately 5,850 student majors in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing Appalachian’s general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing majors in other colleges. Learn more at http://cas.appstate.edu

By Linda Coutant