RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – Those electoral maps drawn last week by North Carolina General Assembly may not have reached the courts by Friday’s deadline before they began to bring legal responses.
Plaintiffs in the case, the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, the Harper group and Common Cause, on Friday night submitted briefs and exhibits to argue that the remedial maps drawn by lawmakers did not meet the state Supreme Court’s concern that the maps justices had tossed out.
NCLCV’s brief said the maps “’systematically Devalued’ the votes of citizens supporting one party by depriving them of ‘opportunity to elect representatives to seats, compared to an equal number of voters in the favored party.’”
Then on Monday the defendants in Harper v. Moore, state Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore et al, got into the act by requesting that legal assistants being employed by the three special masters appointed by the courts should be removed because violating the Supreme Court’s order and communicating with witnesses.
The 3-judge panel in Wake County Superior Court, the trial court that first ruled against the suit seeking to remove the maps for Congress and the state House and Senate that lawmakers had approved, last week appointed three former judges, Robert H. Edmunds Jr., Thomas W. Ross and Robert F. Orr, to serve as special masters.
In a brief filed Monday with the court, the defendants ask that two assistants, Tyler Jarvis and Sam Wang, be removed from their roles for what they called “ex parte communications” – which basically means they had side conversations – with three of the experts the plaintiffs had used during the trial last month.
That was when the original three judges decided that lawmakers had been guilty of extreme partisan gerrymandering in designing some of the electoral districts to maintain or expand Republicans’ prominence in Washington and Raleigh. The court ruled, though, that there was no constitutional reason to discard the maps.
The NC Supreme Court on Feb. 4 ruled, in a 4-3 vote along party lines, that the maps could and should be discarded, required lawmakers to draw “remedial” maps for Congress and the state House and Senate, set this past Friday as the deadline and gave the trial court until Wednesday to review and approve of them.
The defendants’ motion to the court cited numerous communications among Jarvis, Wang and the plaintiffs’ experts and said they were conducted without notifying “counsel of record or the parties.” The brief said that the special masters were “prohibited from having ex parte communications with the parties.”
Special masters are to be independent arbiters, and their assistants could not be directed to act as Jarvis and Wang were said to have acted without violating the Supreme Court’s order, the motion said. The motion said that allowing Jarvis and Wang to continue would prejudice the defendants’ arguments.
The motion also cited Wang’s Princeton Gerrymandering Project – which tracts gerrymandering across all states – as having been part of a lawsuit in New Jersey. The defendants want their work destroyed, their participation to end and a probation on their work being used in the review by the special masters.
There was no immediate comment from the court or anyone involved in the process.
New maps offered
The remedial maps drawn by the General Assembly for Congress and the state House and Senate were seen as more competitive than those first created by lawmakers – maybe a 6-4-4 edge for Republicans, based on analysis – but they were criticized for not going far enough in some cases, for their geographic shapes and for the way they divided communities.
Common Cause, in a court filing, asked for the court to redraw state legislative districts, but the Harper group submitted its version of maps, WRAL-TV reported.
The Harper defendants’ congressional map was similar to a version drawn and reviewed last week by the Senate and adopted by the House but then withdrawn by the Senate in favor of the map adopted. This one was drawn by state Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, back in October, which WRAL said would give the Democrats and 8-6 advantage.
On the other hand, the filing by NCLCV consisted of a 27-page brief and 18 exhibits, primarily proposed maps and supporting data and briefs that the plaintiffs suggest more specifically addresses the court’s requirements for how electoral districts would be designed.
The congressional map in the NCLCV’s filing shows much more compact districts that make geographic sense. For instance the district encompassing Guilford County – setting aside district numbers because they vary from the legislature’s maps – would include all of Guilford and Randolph counties and a portion of Forsyth around Winston-Salem.
Other districts of the Piedmont Triad are drawn largely along county lines and groupings, and the plaintiffs suggest they meet more requirements in the Supreme Court’s order than did those submitted by lawmakers.
The brief suggests that these maps “ensure that every voter – Republican or Democrat, white or Black – has an equal chance to elect their preferred candidate.”
The courts are scheduled to have final decisions by Wednesday so that candidates can resume filing on Friday, as previously stipulated by the Supreme Court. That filing window, which had been open for about 24 hours in December before the court closed it, would continue through noon on March 5.
Dozens of candidates have filed, although district changes could affect that list, and numerous other candidates have announced since Thursday that they intend to run, based on the General Assembly’s map.