Politics & Government

New NC congressional maps challenged in federal court

Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting members review historical voting maps lining the walls during their morning meeting at the N.C. Legislature on Tuesday, February 16, 2016.
Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting members review historical voting maps lining the walls during their morning meeting at the N.C. Legislature on Tuesday, February 16, 2016. clowenst@newsobserver.com

The voters who persuaded a three-judge panel that two of North Carolina’s congressional districts were racial gerrymanders contend in a court document filed late Monday that the new maps drawn in February are no better.

Attorneys for David Harris, a Durham voter, and Christine Bowser, a Mecklenburg County voter, asked the three-judge panel to reject the new maps as “a blatant, unapologetic partisan gerrymander” that fails to provide a legal remedy to the 2011 maps that were struck down last month as unconstitutional.

In their 40-page court filing, the map challengers contend that for more than three decades the U.S. Supreme Court “has explicitly recognized that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional” and cited a case in Arizona to bolster their claim.

Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Harnett County who helped shepherd the 2011 maps and February redesigns through the General Assembly, said race was not considered at all when mapping the 13 congressional districts proposed as a remedy.

The maps, Lewis stated, were drawn to give Republicans in charge of the state house and governor’s office, a 10 to 3 partisan advantage.

“Told it could not pack African American voters into two districts, it instead scattered them to the winds,” attorneys for the map challengers said in theMonday court filing.

Though the map challengers acknowledge that country’s highest court has not yet developed a “single, overarching framework” under which claims of partisan gerrymandering should be litigated, they suggested that the three-judge panel in North Carolina need not worry about that.

The challengers argue that maps drawn and approved by N.C. legislators on Feb. 19 were “an intentional manipulation of district lines for the purpose of disadvantaging and drowning out more than half of the electorate because of those citizens’ political views.”

“Whatever the aims of individual Republican legislators, the General Assembly can hardly claim that the State of North Carolina itself has a legitimate interest in drawing district lines out of a singular desire to erect barriers to the political process for a subset of its citizens,” attorneys for the challengers said in theMonday filing.

A process that results in legislators “choosing their voters,” not “voters choosing their representatives” is not compatible with democratic principles, the challengers contend.

The state will have until next week to respond to the contentions in the challengers’ filing. A hearing is set for March 11 with the judges hoping to have a ruling by March 18.

Last month, when drawing the new maps for North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts, the legislature also changed the primary election date for congressional races.

Under that plan, the candidate filing period opens on March 16 and the elections for congressional races only are set for June 7.

March 15 remains the primary election date for other partisan races in North Carolina.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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