Redistricting in North Carolina

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Redistricting in North Carolina
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General information
Current legislative control:
Congressional process:
State legislature
State legislature process:
State legislature
Total seats
Congress: 13
State Senate: 50
State House: 120
Redistricting in other states
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RedistrictingState-by-state redistricting proceduresState legislative and congressional redistricting after the 2010 Census
Redistricting is the process by which new congressional and state legislative district boundaries are drawn. Each of North Carolina's 13 United States Representatives and 170 state legislators are elected from political divisions called districts. United States Senators are not elected by districts, but by the states at large. District lines are redrawn every 10 years following completion of the United States Census. The federal government stipulates that districts must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.

Redistricting is a fiercely-contested issue, primarily due to gerrymandering, the practice of drawing district lines to favor one political party, individual or constituency over another. Two areas of contention include the following:

Competitiveness: Political parties or incumbents sometimes draw district lines for their benefit at the expense of proportionality and fair representation. Some argue that this practice contributes to the present lack of competitive elections. Uncompetitive elections can in turn discourage participation.[1]
Race and ethnicity: District lines sometimes minimize the influence of minority voters by disproportionately consolidating them within single districts or splitting them across several districts. These practices are examples of "packing" and "cracking," respectively.[1][2][3][4]
In North Carolina, the state legislature is primarily responsible for drawing both congressional and state legislative district lines. In 2014, 10 elections for the United States House of Representatives in North Carolina were won by a margin of victory of 20 percent or greater. The smallest margin of victory was 14.6 percent. An election is considered competitive if the margin of victory is 5 percent or less.


See also: Redistricting

Federal law stipulates that all districts, whether congressional or state legislative, must meet two primary criteria.

  1. Equal population: According to All About Redistricting, federal law "requires that each district have about the same population: each federal district within a state must have about the same number of people [and] each state district within a state must have about the same number of people." Specific standards for determining whether populations are sufficiently equal vary for congressional and state legislative districts. See below for further details.[5]
  2. Race and ethnicity: Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 states that district lines must not dilute the voting power of racial or ethnic minority groups. This provision "applies whether the denial is intentional, or an unintended end result. Courts essentially test whether the way that districts are drawn takes decisive political power away from a cohesive minority bloc otherwise at risk for discrimination."[5]

In most states, the legislatures are primarily responsible for both congressional and state legislative redistricting. However, reformers argue that partisan legislators are incapable of establishing fair district lines because they have a vested interest in the outcome. Instead, reformers advocate using different redistricting processes, including independent commissions or electronic methods. Opponents of these reforms argue that alternative processes are less accountable to voters, subject to partisan abuse, and perhaps unconstitutional.

State requirements


In addition to the federal criteria noted above, individual states may impose additional requirements on redistricting. Common state-level redistricting criteria are listed below. Typically, these requirements are quite flexible.

  1. Contiguity refers to the principle that all areas within a district should be "physically adjacent." A total of 49 states require that districts of at least one state legislative chamber be contiguous. A total of 23 states require that congressional districts meet contiguity requirements.[5][6]
  2. Compactness refers to the general principle that "the distance between all parts of a district" ought to be minimized. The United States Supreme Court has "construed compactness to indicate that residents have some sort of cultural cohesion in common." A total of 37 states "require their legislative districts to be reasonably compact." A total of 18 states impose similar requirements for congressional districts.[5][6]
  3. A community of interest is a "group of people in a geographical area, such as a specific region or neighborhood, who have common political, social or economic interests." A total of 24 states require that the maintenance of communities of interest be considered in the drawing of state legislative districts. A total of 13 states impose similar requirements for congressional districts.[5][6]
  4. A total of 42 states require that state legislative district lines be drawn to account for political boundaries (e.g., the limits of counties, cities and towns). A total of 19 states require that similar considerations be made in the drawing of congressional districts.[5][6]

Congressional redistricting

According to Article 1, Section 4, of the United States Constitution, the states and their legislatures have primary authority in determining the "times, places and manner" of congressional elections. Congress may also pass laws regulating congressional elections. Section 4 explicitly vests the authority to regulate congressional elections with the legislative branches of the states and the federal government and not with the executive or judicial branches.[7][8]

The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.[9]

—United States Constitution

Article 1, Section 2, of the United States Constitution stipulates that congressional representatives be apportioned to the states on the basis of population. There are 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives. Each state is allotted a portion of these seats based on the size of its population relative to the other states. Consequently, a state may gain seats in the House if its population grows, or lose seats if its population decreases, relative to populations in other states. In 1964, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Wesberry v. Sanders that the populations of House districts must be equal "as nearly as practicable."[10][11][5]

The equal population requirement for congressional districts is strict. According to All About Redistricting, "any district with more or fewer people than the average (also known as the 'ideal' population), must be specifically justified by a consistent state policy. And even consistent policies that cause a 1 percent spread from largest to smallest district will likely be unconstitutional."[5]

State legislative redistricting

The United States Constitution is silent on the issue of state legislative redistricting. In the mid-1960s, the United States Supreme Court issued a series of rulings in an effort to clarify standards for state legislative redistricting. In Reynolds v. Sims, the court ruled that "the Equal Protection Clause [of the United States Constitution] demands no less than substantially equal state legislative representation for all citizens, of all places as well as of all races." According to All About Redistricting, "it has become accepted that a [redistricting] plan will be constitutionally suspect if the largest and smallest districts [within a state or jurisdiction] are more than 10 percent apart."

State process

See also: State-by-state redistricting procedures

In 37 states, legislatures are primarily responsible for drawing congressional district lines. Seven states have only one congressional district each, so congressional redistricting is not necessary. Four states employ independent commissions to draw the district maps. In two states, politician commissions draw congressional district lines.

State legislative district lines are primarily the province of the state legislatures themselves in 37 states. In seven states, politician commissions draw state legislative district lines. In the remaining six states, independent commissions draw the lines.[12]

In North Carolina, the state legislature is responsible for drawing both congressional and state legislative district lines. District maps cannot be voted by the governor. State legislative redistricting must take place in the first regular legislative session following the United States Census. There are no explicit deadlines in place for congressional redistricting.[13]

State law establishes the following requirements for state legislative districts:[13]

  • Districts must be contiguous and compact.
  • Districts "must cross county lines as little as possible." If counties are grouped together, the group should include as few counties as possible.
  • Communities of interest should be taken into account.

There are no similar restrictions in place regarding congressional districts.[13]

District maps

Congressional districts

See also: United States congressional delegations from North Carolina
Click the above image to enlarge it.
Source: The National Atlas of the United States of America

North Carolina comprises 13 congressional districts. The map to the right depicts North Carolina's congressional district lines as drawn following the 2010 United States Census. The table below lists North Carolina's current House representatives.

North Carolina delegation to the United States House of Representatives
NamePartyPositionAssumed officeTerm ends
Alma AdamsDemocratic PartyDistrict 12 2014January 3, 2017
David PriceDemocratic PartyDistrict 4 1997January 3, 2017
David RouzerRepublican PartyDistrict 7 2015January 3, 2017
G.K. ButterfieldDemocratic PartyDistrict 1 2004January 3, 2017
George E.B. HoldingRepublican PartyDistrict 13 2013January 3, 2017
Mark MeadowsRepublican PartyDistrict 11 2013January 3, 2017
Mark WalkerRepublican PartyDistrict 6 2015January 3, 2017
Patrick T. McHenryRepublican PartyDistrict 10 2005January 3, 2017
Renee EllmersRepublican PartyDistrict 2 2011January 3, 2017
Richard HudsonRepublican PartyDistrict 8 2013January 3, 2017
Robert PittengerRepublican PartyDistrict 9 2013January 3, 2017
Virginia FoxxRepublican PartyDistrict 5 2005January 3, 2017
Walter B. JonesRepublican PartyDistrict 3 1995January 3, 2017

State legislative maps

See also: North Carolina State Senate and North Carolina House of Representatives

North Carolina comprises 50 state Senate districts and 120 state House districts. State senators are elected every two years in partisan elections. State representatives are elected every two years in partisan elections. To access the current state legislative district maps, click here.[14]


There are conflicting opinions regarding the correlation between partisan gerrymandering and electoral competitiveness. Some critics contend that the dominant redistricting methods result in a lack of competitive elections. Jennifer Clark, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said, "The redistricting process has important consequences for voters. In some states, incumbent legislators work together to protect their own seats, which produces less competition in the political system. Voters may feel as though they do not have a meaningful alternative to the incumbent legislator. Legislators who lack competition in their districts have less incentive to adhere to their constituents’ opinions."[15]

Some question the impact of redistricting on electoral competitiveness. In 2006, Emory University professors Alan Abramowitz, Brad Alexander and Matthew Gunning wrote, "[Some] studies have concluded that redistricting has a neutral or positive effect on competition. ... [It] is often the case that partisan redistricting has the effect of reducing the safety of incumbents, thereby making elections more competitive."[16]

The individuals involved in redistricting must balance the desire for increased competitiveness with other principles that might conflict with that goal, such as compactness, contiguity, and maintaining communities of interest. For instance, it may at times be impossible to draw a competitive district that is both compact and preserves communities of interest.

In 2011, James Cottrill, a professor of political science at Santa Clara University, published a study of the effect of "non-legislative approaches" to redistricting on the competitiveness of congressional elections. Cottrill found that "particular types of [non-legislative approaches] encourage the appearance in congressional elections of experienced and well-financed challengers." Cottrill cautioned, however, that non-legislative approaches "contribute neither to decreased vote percentages when incumbents win elections nor to a greater probability of their defeat."[17]


See also: Margin of victory analysis for the 2014 congressional elections

In 2014, Ballotpedia analyzed the margins of victory in all 435 contests for the United States House of Representatives. Ballotpedia found that the average margin of victory was 35.8 percent, compared to 31.8 percent in 2012. An election is deemed competitive if it was won by a margin of victory of 5 percent or less. A total of 318 elections (73 percent of all House elections) were won by margins of victory of 20 percent or more. Only 26 elections (6 percent of the total) were won by margins of victory of 5 percent or less. See the table below for further details.

Note: The data below are provided only for informational purposes. It should be noted that there are conflicting opinions regarding the correlation between redistricting and competitiveness. A variety of factors at the local, state and federal levels can impact electoral competitiveness.

In North Carolina, 10 elections for the United States House of Representatives were won by margins of victory of 20 percent or greater. The smallest margin of victory occurred in District 13, where George Holding (R) won by 14.6 percent. The greatest margin of victory occurred in District 9, where Robert Pittenger (R) won by 92.5 percent. The average margin of victory was 36.6 percent. See the table below for full details.

Electoral margins of victory in 2014 United States House of Representatives elections, North Carolina
District Winner Margin of victory Total votes cast Top opponent
District 1 Democratic Party G.K. Butterfield 46.8% 210,323 Arthur Rich
District 2 Republican Party Renee Ellmers 17.7% 207,607 Clay Aiken
District 3 Republican Party Walter Jones 35.6% 205,597 Marshall Adame
District 4 Democratic Party David Price 49.5% 227,362 Paul Wright
District 5 Republican Party Virginia Foxx 22% 228,252 Josh Brannon
District 6 Republican Party Mark Walker 17.3% 251,070 Laura Fjeld
District 7 Republican Party David Rouzer 22.2% 226,504 Jonathan Barfield, Jr.
District 8 Republican Party Richard Hudson 29.7% 187,422 Antonio Blue
District 9 Republican Party Robert Pittenger 92.5% 173,668 Shawn Eckles
District 11 Republican Party Mark Meadows 25.8% 230,024 Tom Hill
District 12 Democratic Party Alma Adams 50.7% 172,664 Vince Coakley
District 12 Special Election Democratic Party Alma Adams 50.9% 169,246 Vince Coakley
District 13 Republican Party George Holding 14.6% 268,709 Brenda Cleary

State legislatures

See also: Margin of victory in state legislative elections

In 2014, Ballotpedia conducted a study of competitive districts in 44 state legislative chambers between 2010 and 2012. Ballotpedia found that there were 61 fewer competitive general election contests in 2012 than in 2010. Of the 44 chambers studied, 25 experienced a net loss in the number of competitive elections. A total of 17 experienced a net increase. In total, 16.2 percent of the 3,842 legislative contests studied saw competitive general elections in 2010. In 2012, only 14.6 percent of the contests studied saw competitive general elections. An election was considered competitive if it was won by a margin of victory of 5 percent or less. An election was considered mildly competitive if it was won by a margin of victory between 5 and 10 percent. For more information regarding this report, including methodology, click here.

Note: These data are provided only for informational purposes. It should be noted that there are conflicting opinions regarding the correlation between redistricting and competitiveness. A variety of factors at the local, state and federal levels can impact electoral competitiveness.

There were only two competitive races for the North Carolina State Senate in 2012, compared to five in 2010. There were four mildly competitive state Senate elections in 2012, compared to six in 2010. This amounted to a net loss of two competitive elections.

There were nine competitive races for the North Carolina House of Representatives in 2012, compared to 10 in 2010. There were six mildly competitive state House elections in 2012, compared to 11 in 2010. This amounted to a net loss of six competitive elections.

Partisan composition

The tables below summarize the current partisan composition of the North Carolina House of Representatives and the North Carolina State Senate.


SLP badge.png
Party As of May 2015
     Democratic Party 45
     Republican Party 74
     Independent 1
Total 120


Party As of May 2015
     Democratic Party 16
     Republican Party 34
Total 50

Race and ethnicity

See also: Majority-minority districts

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 mandates that electoral district lines cannot be drawn in such a manner as to "improperly dilute minorities' voting power."

No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.[9]

—Voting Rights Act of 1965[18]

States and other political subdivisions may create majority-minority districts in order to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. A majority-minority district is a district in which minority groups comprise a majority of the district's total population. As of 2013, North Carolina was home to three congressional majority-minority districts.[2][3][4]

Proponents of majority-minority districts maintain that these districts are a necessary hindrance to the practice of "cracking." Cracking occurs when a constituency is divided between several districts in order to prevent it from achieving a majority in any one district. In addition, supporters argue that the drawing of majority-minority districts has resulted in an increased number of minority representatives in state legislatures and Congress.[2][3][4]

Critics, meanwhile, contend that the establishment of majority-minority districts results in "packing." Packing occurs when a constituency or voting group is placed within a single district, thereby minimizing its influence in other districts. Because minority groups tend to vote Democratic, critics argue that majority-minority districts ultimately present an unfair advantage to Republicans by consolidating Democratic votes into a smaller number of districts.[2][3][4]


See also: Demographics of congressional districts as of 2013 and Demographics of congressional districts as of 2013 (as percentages)

The tables below provide demographic information for each of North Carolina's congressional districts as of 2013. At that time, the population of the largest congressional district, District 1, totaled 728,046, and the population of the smallest, District 2, totaled 751,263, which represented a difference of 3.2 percent.[19]

Demographics of North Carolina's congressional districts (as percentages)
District Hispanic White Black Native
Asian Pacific
Other Multiple
North Carolina 8.55% 64.88% 21.14% 1.08% 2.27% 0.05% 0.18% 1.85%
District 1 7.9% 35.6% 52.3% 0.6% 1.4% 0% 0.1% 2%
District 2 10.9% 66.3% 15.6% 0.9% 3.2% 0.1% 0.2% 2.8%
District 3 6.8% 70.8% 18.6% 0.5% 1.3% 0.1% 0.1% 1.8%
District 4 11.5% 48.4% 31.7% 0.3% 5.1% 0.1% 0.4% 2.5%
District 5 8.4% 75.6% 12.7% 0.3% 1.5% 0% 0.1% 1.4%
District 6 6.2% 74.6% 15.2% 0.5% 1.8% 0% 0.2% 1.5%
District 7 9.5% 69.2% 17.1% 1.7% 0.7% 0.1% 0.1% 1.7%
District 8 8.5% 63% 18.6% 7.1% 1.1% 0% 0.2% 1.6%
District 9 7.7% 73.9% 12.3% 0.3% 3.8% 0% 0.2% 1.8%
District 10 5.6% 79.5% 11.4% 0.3% 1.4% 0% 0.1% 1.6%
District 11 5.6% 87.3% 2.9% 1.3% 1% 0% 0.1% 1.6%
District 12 14.6% 28.8% 49.5% 0.3% 4.6% 0.1% 0.2% 1.9%
District 13 7.8% 70.4% 17.1% 0.2% 2.4% 0% 0.2% 1.8%
Source: United States Census Bureau, "2009-2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates," accessed April 8, 2015
Demographics of North Carolina's congressional districts
District Hispanic White Black Native
Asian Pacific
Other Multiple
North Carolina 824,868 6,261,792 2,040,418 104,296 219,381 4,882 17,488 178,255 9,651,380
District 1 57,679 258,969 380,706 4,693 10,067 200 1,001 14,731 728,046
District 2 82,233 498,037 117,346 6,454 24,227 612 1,657 20,697 751,263
District 3 50,808 526,375 138,409 3,457 9,755 601 926 13,660 743,991
District 4 85,278 359,868 235,722 2,174 37,945 1,047 2,709 18,287 743,030
District 5 62,152 559,851 93,967 1,920 11,101 123 709 10,413 740,236
District 6 46,406 557,612 113,658 3,427 13,820 235 1,571 10,968 747,697
District 7 70,293 513,978 127,219 12,348 5,069 450 949 12,488 742,794
District 8 62,427 463,580 136,435 51,991 8,052 131 1,282 11,404 735,302
District 9 57,519 554,847 92,347 1,967 28,857 109 1,289 13,852 750,787
District 10 41,239 583,018 83,982 1,941 10,280 94 1,024 11,903 733,481
District 11 41,092 642,582 21,575 9,842 7,705 327 1,074 11,703 735,900
District 12 109,046 215,647 371,204 2,381 34,220 813 1,511 14,409 749,231
District 13 58,696 527,428 127,848 1,701 18,283 140 1,786 13,740 749,622
Source: United States Census Bureau, "2009-2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates," accessed April 8, 2015

Redistricting after the 2010 census

See also: Redistricting in North Carolina after the 2010 census

Following the 2010 United States Census, North Carolina neither gained nor lost congressional seats. In 2010, Republicans won control of both chambers of the state legislature. Consequently, Republicans dominated the 2010 redistricting process.[20]

On July 27, 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly approved congressional and state legislative redistricting plans. The Almanac of American Politics described the congressional map as follows:[20]

[Republicans] painstakingly packed Democratic voters into just three of the state’s 13 seats: an African-American majority 1st District covering parts of rural northeastern counties and heavily black neighborhoods in Durham, an almost comically liberal 4th District tying via tentacles the academic haven of Chapel Hill to black neighborhoods in Raleigh and faraway Fayetteville, and an even more tightly packed African-American majority 12th District knifing along the I-85 corridor from Charlotte to Winston-Salem and Greensboro. Republicans drew the other 10 seats at least 10 percentage points more Republican than the national average.[9]

—The Almanac of American Politics

These plans were granted preclearance by the United States Department of Justice on November 1, 2011. The legislature made technical corrections to the new congressional and state legislative district maps on November 7, 2011. The U.S. Department of Justice precleared the amended maps on December 8, 2011.[13]

Following the 2012 election, the first to take place under the new maps, Democrats won only four of the state's 13 congressional seats, even though they "won a majority of the state's votes in House races."[20]

Dickson v. Rucho

On November 3, 2011, opponents of the new maps filed suit against a group of state legislators instrumental in approving the new district lines.[13][21]

Election and civil rights advocacy groups and Democratic voters in North Carolina sued over the maps and argued that lawmakers created oddly shaped districts to create clusters of Democratic-leaning black voters. The redrawing of the map had the effect of benefiting Republicans elsewhere in the state. Republicans said the districts were lawful and designed to protect the state from legal claims under the federal Voting Rights Act.[9]

—ABC News

A trial court rejected the challenge on July 8, 2013. The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court. On December 19, 2014, the court upheld the trial court's decision rejecting the challenge. The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court, which ordered the state supreme court to reconsider its earlier ruling. In March 2015, the high court ruled similarly in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama.[13][21][22]

Senator Bob Rucho (R), a named defendant in the suit, said, "Today's procedural ruling is not unexpected, and we are confident that our state Supreme Court will once again arrive at the same result and the U.S. Supreme Court will affirm its decision." Margaret Dickson, one of the plaintiffs and a former state House member, said, "We have always known that the current maps were unconstitutional and are gratified that the Supreme Court of the United States has now set in motion a way forward for final disposition of this long-running and wrongly-decided case."[21][22]

On May 18, 2015, the North Carolina Supreme Court expedited the case, ordering that all briefs be submitted by July 27, 2015. Oral arguments were scheduled to take place on August 31, 2015.[23]

Redistricting ballot measures

Voting on
elections and campaigns
Ballot measures
By state
By year
Not on ballot
See also: Redistricting measures on the ballot and List of North Carolina ballot measures

Ballotpedia has tracked the following ballot measure(s) relating to redistricting in North Carolina.

  1. North Carolina Independent Redistricting Commission Amendment (2016)

Recent news

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See also

External links

Additional reading


  1. 1.0 1.1 All About Redistricting, "Why does it matter?" accessed April 8, 2015
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Indy Week, "Cracked, stacked and packed: Initial redistricting maps met with skepticism and dismay," June 29, 2011
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 The Atlantic, "How the Voting Rights Act Hurts Democrats and Minorities," June 17, 2013
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Redrawing the Lines, "The Role of Section 2 - Majority Minority Districts," accessed April 6, 2015
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 All About Redistricting, "Where are the lines drawn?" accessed April 9, 2015
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 FairVote, "Redistricting Glossary," accessed April 9, 2015
  7. The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, "Election Regulations," accessed April 13, 2015
  8. Brookings, "Redistricting and the United States Constitution," March 22, 2011
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  10. Brennan Center for Justice, "A Citizen's Guide to Redistricting," accessed March 25, 2015
  11. The Constitution of the United States of America, "Article 1, Section 2," accessed March 25, 2015
  12. All About Redistricting, "Who draws the lines?" accessed March 25, 2015
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 All About Redistricting, "North Carolina," accessed April 20, 2015
  14. North Carolina General Assembly, "Who Represents Me?" accessed April 20, 2015
  15. The Daily Cougar, "Redistricting will affect November election," October 16, 2012
  16. The Journal of Politics, "Incumbency, Redistricting, and the Decline of Competition in U.S. House Elections," February 2006
  17. Polity, "The Effects of Non-Legislative Approaches to Redistricting on Competition in Congressional Elections," October 3, 2011
  18. Yale Law School, The Avalon Project, "Voting Rights Act of 1965; August 6, 1965," accessed April 6, 2015
  19. United States Census Bureau, "2009-2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates," accessed April 8, 2015
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Barone, M. & McCutcheon, C. (2013). The almanac of American politics 2014 : the senators, the representatives and the governors : their records and election results, their states and districts. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 ABC News, "Supreme Court Orders Review of North Carolina Redistricting," April 20, 2015
  22. 22.0 22.1, "U.S. Supreme Court orders review of NC redistricting," April 20, 2015
  23. Ballot Access News, "North Carolina Supreme Court Expedites Redistricting Lawsuit," May 18, 2015