NC leg­isla­tive remap chal­lenges still in court

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY GARY D. ROBERT­SON

Court ar­gu­ments on Gen­eral As­sem­bly dis­trict lines that Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors orig­i­nally ap­proved seven years ago have yet to be ex­hausted as state judges Fri­day weighed whether lines for sev­eral House seats should re­vert to how they were drawn in 2011.

At is­sue are pro­vi­sions in North Carolina’s con­sti­tu­tion that say state leg­isla­tive dis­tricts “shall re­main un­al­tered” un­til the re­lease of each decade’s cen­sus num­bers. There are ex­cep­tions to this mid-decade re­dis­trict­ing ban when courts or­der changes, as they have in the 2010s.

The U.S. Supreme Court said in June that a lower fed­eral court went too far in rul­ing 2017 map changes in Meck­len­burg and Wake coun­ties vi­o­lated the state con­sti­tu­tion’s pro­hi­bi­tion of mid­decade re­dis­trict­ing be­cause it wasn’t the lower court’s job to de­cide.

The al­ter­ations were part of a larger remap by the Gen­eral As­sem­bly and an out­side ex­pert after the same lower court had de­clared nearly 30 House and Se­nate dis­tricts were il­le­gal racial ger­ry­man­ders.

Be­fore the jus­tices ruled, the state NAACP, League of Women Vot­ers, other groups and vot­ers had al­ready sued in state court say­ing four Wake state House dis­tricts vi­o­lated the mid-decade pro­hi­bi­tion. They wanted the dis­tricts re­turned to their 2011 shapes.

Al­li­son Riggs, an at­tor­ney for the plain­tiffs, told the state judges Fri­day that al­ter­ing the Wake dis­tricts ad­join­ing two dis­tricts that had been struck down for racial bias was proper, but the four other dis­tricts weren’t un­law­ful and should have been left alone. Her clients ar­gue that Repub­li­cans changed three of the four dis­tricts to im­prove chances for Repub­li­can elec­tion vic­to­ries this fall.

The three-judge panel didn’t rule im­me­di­ately from the bench after two hours of oral ar­gu­ments.

The case won’t af­fect this fall’s elec­tion but could al­ter the map in 2020, a year be­fore the next round of re­dis­trict­ing be­gins based on cen­sus fig­ures.

Riggs told the panel that past state re­dis­trict­ing cases show the mid-decade pro­hi­bi­tion “must be en­forced to the max­i­mum ex­tent pos­si­ble,” pro­vided it doesn’t con­tra­dict fed­eral law.

“You don’t have to change ev­ery dis­trict in the county to cor­rect the racial ger­ry­man­der” found by fed­eral judges in the two dis­tricts, Riggs told the state judges.

Phil Strach, a lawyer for Repub­li­can map­mak­ers, told the judges re­draw­ing more Wake dis­tricts was one way to com­ply with both the fed­eral court rul­ing that found the 28 racially ger­ry­man­dered dis­tricts and the pro­hi­bi­tion.

Strach cited a pre­vi­ous court opin­ion sug­gest­ing the leg­is­la­ture could re­draw dis­tricts that were “di­rectly and in­di­rectly af­fected” by a court de­ci­sion.

“There’s a menu of op­tions and a menu of pos­si­ble rea­son­able op­tions, and this court is bound to ac­cept the one that the leg­is­la­ture used as rea­son­able,” Strach said.

Strach said map­mak­ers in 2011 drew the two Wake County House dis­tricts that con­tained black vot­ing-age ma­jori­ties first, fol­lowed by the oth­ers. So when those two dis­tricts were struck down, he said, they had a “rip­ple ef­fect” on the rest of the county dis­tricts.

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