A federal court panel ruled on Friday that two of North Carolina's congressional districts are racial gerrymanders and must be redrawn within two weeks.
An order, written by U.S. Circuit Judge Roger L. Gregory, also bars elections in North Carolina's 1st and 12th congressional districts until new maps are approved.
The ruling by the three-judge panel in federal court comes more than two years after David Harris, a registered voter in Durham County, filed a lawsuit with Christine Bowser and Samuel Love, both registered voters from Mecklenburg County, seeking an invalidation of the two districts, which were represented at the time by Democrats — G.K. Butterfield in District 1 and Mel Watt in District 12.
Their challenge came after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June of 2013 opened a new legal front for challenging the maps.
The 1st Congressional District according to the lawsuit, is “akin to a Rorschach inkblot” that weaves through 24 counties, containing only five whole counties. The district is mostly in the northeastern part of the state and includes Durham, Elizabeth City, Roanoke Rapids, Rocky Mount, Goldsboro and New Bern.
The length of the district’s perimeter, according to the lawsuit, is 1,319 miles - “almost precisely the distance from Chapel Hill to Austin, Texas.”
The three voters contended that the Republican-led General Assembly that designed the maps in 2011 "ignored the common rural and agricultural interests" of Coastal Plain residents that federal courts have previously recognized. Durham, the newly added urban center, constitutes 25 percent of the district’s population.
The 12th Congressional District is 120 miles long but only 20 miles wide at its widest part. The district includes large portions of Charlotte and Greensboro connected by a thin strip — “averaging only a few miles wide” - that follows Interstate 85.
“A person traveling on Interstate 85 between the two cities would exit the district multiple times, as the district’s boundaries zig and zag to encircle African-American communities, " the federal lawsuit contended.
Critics of the 2011 Republican-led redistricting contend the map lines were drawn to concentrate black voters in districts that reduced their overall political power.
The lawsuit decided on Friday is one of several challenging the maps in federal and state court.
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