By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) -Courts in North Carolina and Pennsylvania on Wednesday approved new congressional districts that could bolster Democrats’ chances of holding onto the U.S. House of Representatives in November, after Republican efforts to install more advantageous maps for their party failed in both states.
A panel of North Carolina judges rejected the latest map produced by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, ruling that it did not meet the standards of partisan fairness that the state’s Supreme Court set earlier this month.
Instead, the judges adopted a map drawn by several court-appointed experts. The new map includes seven likely Republican districts, six likely Democratic districts and one competitive seat, Dave Wasserman, a redistricting analyst at Cook Political Report, said on Twitter.
The state Supreme Court had previously tossed out an initial Republican-backed plan as unconstitutionally partisan, finding that Republicans would win a strong majority of the state’s 14 seats under almost any circumstance.
The Republican speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, Tim Moore, said he would immediately appeal the “egregious” ruling.
In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court accepted a map backed by Democrats, weeks after Democratic Governor Tom Wolf vetoed a plan that was passed by the majority-Republican state legislature.
The map approved on Wednesday largely eschews major changes, while eliminating one Republican-held district due to the state’s slower population growth. Republicans and Democrats currently hold nine seats each.
Both decisions drew immediate criticism from Republicans that the state Supreme Courts – both majority Democratic – acted out of partisan interest rather than judicial impartiality.
“These are nothing but partisan rubber-stamps today,” said former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the co-chair of the National Republican Redistricting Trust, which coordinates Republican mapping efforts nationwide.
Democrats, by contrast, said the rulings ensured fair maps and protected voters’ rights.
“This is a substantial win for Pennsylvanians who now get to vote for the candidate of their choosing in fair, lawful districts for the next decade,” Eric Holder, the chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said in a statement after the Pennsylvania decision.
Republicans need to flip only a handful of seats in November’s midterm elections to recapture control of the U.S. House and stymie much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.
States must redraw their congressional maps every 10 years under federal law to account for population shifts. In most cases, lawmakers control redistricting, leading to partisan gerrymandering, the process by which one party manipulates district lines to increase its power.
With more than three dozen states having completed new maps, neither Republicans nor Democrats have gained a significant advantage. Republican gerrymanders in states such as Texas, Tennessee and Georgia have been countered by Democratic ones in Maryland, Illinois and New York.
Instead, the biggest change has been the elimination of competitive districts, a shift that is likely to increase polarization and lead to more ideologically extreme candidates, electoral experts say.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax;Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Aurora Ellis)