The U.S. Supreme Court will review an appeal by North Carolina to maintain the remapping of its districts this fall – a plan previously described as a “blatant, unapologetic, partisan, gerrymander” that could disfranchise the state’s minority population.
The court added the appeal to its calendar Monday. Its decision to address the redistricting plan comes just five months after a three-judge panel rejected a legal challenge filed by attorneys for David Harris of Durham and Christine Bowser of Mecklenburg County. Attorneys argue that remapping of state’s 1st and 12th congressional districts limits the state’s minority representation.
Those districts are held by Democrat Reps. G.K. Butterfield and Alma Adams, the state’s only two African-American congressional representatives.
“It’s not a redistricting decade if North Carolina doesn’t have a case go before the Supreme Court over its legislative districts, and the question always boils down to: What percentage of black voters should a district hold in order for black North Carolinians to elect one of their own?” Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer said.
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U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that there were 10 million people living in North Carolina in 2015. African-Americans account for 22.1 percent of that population, according to the bureau.
Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Harnett County who helped shepherd the 2011 maps and February redesigns through the General Assembly, has said that race was never a factor when the 13 congressional districts were redrawn. The point of redrawing the districts was to give Republicans a 10-3 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation, he said.
Democrats once had a 7-6 advantage over the Republicans, Bitzer said. Now, Republicans have control over 10 out of the 13 congressional districts.
The three-judge panel noted in early June that it did not have enough evidence before it to determine whether Republicans were guilty of political gerrymandering.
Appeal records show that North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and A. Grant Whitney Jr., chairman of the State Board of Elections, had asked the Supreme Court to strike down the legal challenge posed by Harris and Bowser. McCrory also called on the Supreme Court to examine what he described as “more than just a fact-finding error” on the part of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.
“The error contributed to the district court’s erroneous legal analysis of whether the State had a strong basis in evidence to draw [Congressional District 1] as a [Voting Rights Act] district,” the document states. “Because [Congressional District 1] was never a majority white district, it was difficult to know whether black candidates who won in that district did so because of white crossover voting. It was also impossible for any so-called white majority to defeat any black candidate because white voters were never a majority of the district.”
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits racial discrimination in voting. McCrory contends that Congressional District 1 “was never majority white and that significant levels of racially polarized voting continued to exist.”
The debate over what qualifies as gerrymandering and whether North Carolina Republicans are violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 comes not long after the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia’s absence contributed to the court’s rare 4-4 split on Obama’s immigration policy.
Anne Blythe of The (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.
Maggie Ybarra, 202-383-6048 @MolotovFlicker