North Carolina redistricting maps can stand, court rules, but appeals expected

North Carolina News

(WGHP) — The maps the General Assembly drew for North Carolina’s congressional and legislative districts are not partisan gerrymanders and can be used for upcoming elections.

That was the decision announced in a 258-page ruling Tuesday by a 3-judge panel in Wake County Circuit Court who heard testimony last week in three suits filed by seek that the maps be redrawn.

“After carefully and fully conducting our analysis, it is clear that Plaintiffs’ claims must fail,” the ruling says. “Judges, just like many of the citizens they serve, do not always like the results they reach. That fact notwithstanding, judges have a solemn duty to uphold the law.”

Lawyers for the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters and a group of former elected officials, the Harper v. Lewis group of voters and Common Cause had argued that the maps were designed to protect and even amplify Republican dominance in Congress and the General Assembly.

Attorneys for lawmakers countered that partisan gerrymandering is not specifically prohibited by the North Carolina constitution and that lawmakers used no election data in drawing the district lines.

This is only a first skirmish in this battle, though, because the challengers are expected to appeal immediately to the state Court of Appeals or directly to the state Supreme Court, which in December halted candidate filing and delayed the primary election from March to May to allow for these suits to be tried and appealed.

“Declaring as unconstitutional, an act of the branch of government that represents the people is a task that is not to be taken lightly. There is a strong presumption that enactments of the General Assembly are constitutional,” the ruling stated.

The judges set a schedule to resume candidate filing for all races to resume on Feb. 26-March 4.

The maps at issue were adopted by the General Assembly on Nov. 5. They added a 14th Congressional District and split the current 13 in a way that experts testifying for the plaintiffs argued would ensure at least a 10-4 GOP dominance and created districts for that state legislature that some say suggest a possible return to Republican supermajority.

Guilford County – and the surrounding area – is at the center of this issue because the new Congressional map replaces the 6th Congressional District, which consisted of Guilford County and Winston-Salem, with four separate districts that cover hundreds of miles in all four directions.

Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro), who now serves in the 6th District, and Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-Banner Elk), who represents the 5th District, are “double-bunked” in the new 11th District that stretches along the Virginia border to Ashe County and then down to Caldwell County. Small portions of Watauga County are included, ostensibly to allow for Foxx’s home to be in that district.

Foxx announced in November she would run in the 11th, but Manning has made no announcement about her plans as she contends the new congressional maps were created unfairly and awaits the issue to play out in court.

Winston-Salem, also part of the 6th District, would be included with all of Forsyth County in the 12th District, where Rep. Ted Budd (R-Advance) and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-Denver) are considered the incumbents.

Budd, though, is running for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Richard Burr.

Under the new maps, Guilford County also would be parts of the 10th District, with the High Point area joining some of Davidson and Iredell counties and all of Davie, Rowan and Cabarrus counties. Rep. Richard Hudson (R-Concord) is the incumbent.

The wild card is the newly drawn 7th Congressional District, which includes eastern Guilford and Davidson counties and all of Alamance, Randolph, Chatham and Lee counties and a small portion of Wake County.

There is no incumbent in that district, but several candidates have announced intentions to run (some filed paperwork before the process was stopped).

The key to that picture is former Rep. Mark Walker, a Republican currently running for Senate. He has been asked by former President Donald Trump and others to leave the Senate race against Budd and former Gov. Pat McCrory and run for this seat. He, too, has said he is waiting for the picture to become clearer before deciding.

Arguments about district lines have raged for years and been parts of both federal and state lawsuits. Courts ordered districts to be redrawn for the 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections, in some cases even taking over the process and hiring consultants to create the maps.

That’s what plaintiffs were hoping would happen in last week’s trial, that politicians would be removed from the line-drawing and be replaced by mathematics and computers.

They argue that’s a fairer approach and that the General Assembly wasn’t forthright about its approach.

Some of that argument was fortified by the disclosure by House Rules Chair Destin Hall (R-Lenoir), the leader of his chamber’s redistricting process, who testified about strategy sessions for map drawing conducted in a private room and how maps devised there then were “created” during the streaming public sessions that lawmakers touted as “the most transparent in history.”

These “concept maps,” which Hall described as having been brought into the public room by his staff lawyer, Dylan Reel, are “currently lost and no longer exist.”

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