(Adds reaction, background)
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., Jan 9 (Reuters) - A three-judge federal panel ordered congressional districts in North Carolina to be redrawn ahead of the 2018 elections, ruling on Tuesday that the current Republican-drawn map was illegal and unconstitutionally partisan.
The judges said the state legislator responsible for the 2016 map had said he drew it to give Republican candidates an advantage.
“But that is not a choice the Constitution allows legislative map drawers to make,” the court said.
Ralph Hise, North Carolina’s state Senate Redistricting Chairman, said through a spokeswoman that lawmakers would appeal.
Democrats and the groups that brought the suit applauded the ruling.
“Today’s ruling is a major victory for North Carolina and people across the state whose voices were silenced by Republicans’ unconstitutional attempts to rig the system to their partisan advantage,” North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said in a statement.
While prior court decisions had ruled against unconstitutional racial gerrymandering in North Carolina, Common Cause - one of the public-interest groups that filed the lawsuit - said the ruling marked the first time a court had struck down partisan gerrymandering in the state.
The U.S. Supreme Court last June upheld a lower court’s ruling that Republican lawmakers in North Carolina had mapped state legislative districts in a way that diluted the clout of black voters.
The judges gave the state until Jan. 29 to file a proposed remedial plan with the court. (Reporting by Colleen Jenkins and Chris Kenning; editing by Tom Brown and G Crosse)