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Federal judges not pleased with Republican delay over redrawing unconstitutional racial gerrymanders

Two federal judges chided an attorney representing North Carolina lawmakers Thursday about not taking the redrawing of unconstitutional districts serious enough.

“This is serious,” said 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James Wynn. “You’re asking us to keep delaying it.”

Wynn is part of a three-judge panel that previously found 28 State House and Senate districts to be unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered and ordered they be redrawn and a remedial special election be held. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the panel’s finding but sent the case back for further consideration of a special election.

The panel did not rule from the bench Thursday and instead took all arguments and testimony under advisement.

During the hearing, Wynn and U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles expressed disapproval over lawmakers not yet taking any action on the previous order to redraw the districts.

“You had to know this case was going to be affirmed,” Wynn said.

Phil Strach, who represents the legislative defendants, contended that lawmakers were following the previous order and were taking redistricting seriously. He said they had already appointed members to the redistricting committees, had a meeting to discuss the plan and submitted that plan to the court.

Lawmakers’ timeline would have them enacting and submitting new maps to the court in mid-November. The plaintiffs in the case have asked that the legislature be given two weeks to enact new maps, which is the minimum time provided by state law.

Strach called the plaintiff’s timeline and request for a special election extreme.

“It would take a blow torch to the normal processes of North Carolina,” he said.

Eagles asked Strach why legislators needed so long to draw the maps if the sole purpose was to correct the constitutional violations — not to start from scratch and weigh all the benefits and advantages of redistricting.

Strach said legislators’ timeline allows for an orderly process with maximum public input. If the panel were to compress their timeline any further, he said, it would mean less time for public hearings.

“Well, that’s your own fault,” Eagles responded.

Anita Earls, of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, pointed out that a remedial redistricting process was different than normal procedure — the legislature is tasked with following the law and the way in which maps have to be redrawn is already known.

The panel, in deciding a timeline, she said, needs to weigh the value of candidates knowing which districts they will run in and the ability for civil activism with regard to campaigning to the value of public input. She said the former weighs much heavier in this scenario.

Earls added that the situation North Carolina is in now is a result of legislators’ delay.

Earls also asked the court to order a special election, noting that the constitutional violation was great enough to justify any burden the state might experience.

“This is a very serious violation impacting more of the state than ever before,” she said. “That harm needs to stop now.”

Strach said a special election would cause confusion and disruption, and turnout would be low.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Alexander Peters, who represents the state and the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement did not take a position on either the timeline for new maps or the special election.

For a full rundown on the hearing, check NC Policy Watch tomorrow morning.

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