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North Carolina's Supreme Court has rejected a congressional map that favored GOP

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

North Carolina Democrats have won a big victory in a long-running battle over whether the state's congressional and state legislative maps are fair. In a state where Democratic candidates often receive nearly half of the vote, the North Carolina Supreme Court rejected a congressional map that gives the GOP the advantage in 10 of 14 seats. The ruling comes as Democrats nationwide are winning court cases challenging Republican-drawn maps while also drawing their own extreme gerrymanders. WFAE's Steve Harrison reports from Charlotte.

STEVE HARRISON, BYLINE: Most of North Carolina's population growth in recent decades has been driven by cities, like Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro, which are heavily Democratic. But the congressional map drawn by Republican legislators last December divided those urban counties into three districts, greatly diluting the strength of Democratic voters. Republican map makers also shifted Black voters out of a congressional seat in the rural northeast part of the state that's historically been represented by an African American. Attorney Allison Riggs, who represents one of the plaintiffs who sued, says that raised alarm bells.

ALLISON RIGGS: And that's very suspicious and problematic, and there was no good justification offered for it.

HARRISON: She says experts use statistical analysis to show that the map was...

RIGGS: Intentionally drawn to entrench Republicans in power, no matter how voters' will changes.

HARRISON: The state Supreme Court agreed. In a 4-3 decision along party lines, Democratic justices ordered the legislature to draw new maps and to show a statistical analysis that the new districts are fair. Republican lawmakers are expected to propose a new map that gives them the edge in nine seats instead of 10, albeit with more competitive districts. North Carolina Democrats want a map likely to split 7-7. Attorney Phil Strach, who represents the Republican legislature, told the court that lawmakers need a clear definition of what is fair.

PHIL STRACH: If the court believes it can divine some standard, it's going to have to legislate the result because it's got to provide an objective standard or rule that the legislature can follow. It's not just enough to say, oh, just follow the will of the people.

HARRISON: As states are finalizing their congressional maps, Democrats have scored some big wins. Courts in Ohio and Pennsylvania have also rejected Republican-drawn maps, and in states like Maryland and New York, Democrats have passed maps that are arguably more gerrymandered than North Carolina. The New York map, for instance, gives Democrats the edge in 22 of 26 seats. Andrew Romeo with the Republican State Legislative Committee says Democrats are only selectively against gerrymandering.

ANDREW ROMEO: And all you have to do is look at, well, if that's really how they felt, then why have they not sued in Maryland or New York on the liberal gerrymanders there?

HARRISON: New York Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney told MSNBC that his party wants to have independent redistricting commissions, but that, quote, "unilaterally disarming isn't the answer."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SEAN PATRICK MALONEY: I'm a guy that wants to bring a gun to a gun fight. Yeah, you bet. And I think Democrats need to stand and fight and defend our democracy.

HARRISON: J. Miles Coleman with the University of Virginia's Center for Politics says when redistricting started, many thought Republicans might essentially win the House before the election by controlling redistricting in Texas, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina. That's changed, he says.

J MILES COLEMAN: If Democrats lose the House later this year, it's probably going to have more to do with the national environment than how the lines were drawn.

HARRISON: In North Carolina, a court is expected to decide on a new map by February 23. And that map could help Democrats go from having three or four seats to five or six. For NPR News, I'm Steve Harrison in Charlotte.

(SOUNDBITE OF SG LEWIS'S "REST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Harrison