WASHINGTON -- After the Supreme Court sidestepped a big decision on two partisan gerrymandering case, some are pointing to North Carolina's case as potentially "very important."

  • North Carolina is now center stage in racial gerrymandering case.
  • A lower court has ruled that North Carolina's congressional map is unconstitutional.
  • Justices could wait and see whether the Maryland or Wisconsin cases return to the Supreme Court. 

The court has yet to come up with a standard to evaluate whether a district is gerrymandered politically speaking, where one party is given an advantage over another. The court has already established a gauge for racial gerrymandering.

Paul Smith with the Campaign Legal Center argued the recent Wisconsin case before the nation's highest court, and has also worked on the North Carolina case.

Smith says while the two cases are similar, North Carolina may have an additional element that could allow the Supreme Court to make a larger, precedent-setting decision. 

The Supreme Court punted the Wisconsin case, citing a technicality. The court determined the plaintiff did not adequately prove the impact on individual voters. In the Tar Heel case, Smith says they will be able to show that individual impact.

"We have evidence and findings of individual harm in every district," Smith said. "So the preliminary issue that was the stumbling block in the Wisconsin case isn’t really there in the North Carolina case."

A lower court has ruled that North Carolina's congressional map is unconstitutional because it disproportionately favors Republicans. In Wisconsin, meanwhile, Republicans are accused of drafting the legislative map to unfairly favor their party.

"Basically it’s the same argument, you have 13 congressional districts in North Carolina, the Republican-led state government set out to guarantee that party controls 10," he said.

Gerrymandering is a practice as old as the nation itself. It involves crafting congressional or legislative districts to make sure certain groups of people are heard, and other voices are ignored. 

North Carolina has already been forced to redraw its district lines once in recent years, after an appeals court found the map to be racially unfair. 

It remains unclear whether the Supreme Court will take up the North Carolina case. 

Alan Morrison, a law professor at The George Washington University who has argued cases before the high court, warns that the justices can be unpredictable. He says they may shy away from the North Carolina case if there is any hint that they may need to punt again for technical reasons.

​"I don't think they'll step away that long, but they might say 'We’ve done enough and we won't have a gerrymandering case for lunch next year,'" Morrison said.

If they do take it up, Smith says North Carolina could prove pivotal, allowing the court to finally answer the big question: How do you prove a district was drawn to unfairly advantage one party over another?

T​he court could announce as early as next week whether they will be moving ahead with the North Carolina case this fall.

Alternatively, the justices could wait and see whether the Maryland or Wisconsin cases return to the Supreme Court. In their decision, they did not rule that out as a possibility.

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