In a almost 200-page opinion, the three-judge panel ruled that state Republicans drew excessively partisan districts when previously ordered to redraw the state's congressional map. It's the second time North Carolina's congressional maps have been thrown out - in 2016, three federal judges ruled that state's congressional districts were the result of an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. In May of previous year, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that the state had drawn their districts illegally by race.
Gerrymandering has drawn opposition from both sides of the political aisle.
For Mattingly, Tuesday's ruling was "an important step in the conversation" about the use of mathematics to illuminate such problems. It was the first time federal judges had ruled that a congressional map was unconstitutional because of gerrymandering.
Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said in a statement: "A bipartisan three-judge federal panel agreed with us today that partisan gerrymandering is an affront to our Equal Protection Clause". Or it could also mean grouping those opposition voters into such districts where the other party has a lock on power - making it very hard for the opposing party to win elections there, thus giving one party a lopsided advantage over the other in an election. Among those celebrating the ruling was Democratic Party activist Jake Quinn who brought one of the lawsuits.
The judges ordered the General Assembly to approve another set of districts by January 24. Five weeks from now, on Monday, Feb. 12, the filing period for candidates to run in 2018 is due to open, closing Friday, Feb. 28.
Robin Hayes, chairman of the North Carolina GOP, defended the map, which looks more or less tidy - carefully drawn to avoid the irregular-shaped districts that have been a hallmark of gerrymandering.
The decision adds to a growing movement to have the Supreme Court finally decide whether partisan gerrymandering can be so extreme as to violate voters' constitutional rights. There is now no law against the process, however the outcome of the Wisconsin gerrymandering case could alter that. But the North Carolina case indicates how savvy political operators can game the system while keeping districts looking fairly tight and compact.
Osteen pointed to comments from Tom Hofeller, a go-to mapmaker for Republicans in North Carolina and other states, who acknowledged efforts "to minimize the number of districts in which Democrats would have an opportunity to elect a Democratic candidate". Lawmakers have already suspended judicial primary elections in 2018 and that decision is being challenged in court for its constitutionality.
Meanwhile, the ruling puts Republicans in a tight spot. "Almost no matter how they redraw those lines, they going to take most likely some Republicans out of the 11th Congressional district, Mark Meadows district".
Of course, the outcome wasn't chance, as Republican legislators explicitly drew the 2016 maps to yield a 10-3 lineup.
"They have to reintroduce themselves", he said of the incumbents.