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First redistricting committee meeting set for Monday after court orders new districts

The North Carolina House Redistricting Committee will meet for the first time Monday following a court order to draw new legislative districts within two weeks.

In a significant ruling Tuesday, a three-judge panel from Wake County Superior Court found that Republican lawmakers unconstitutionally used partisan gerrymandering during the past round of redistricting to severely disadvantage Democratic voters. There was a two-week trial in July in the Common Cause v. Lewis case,

The remedial process, which is expected to begin at the scheduled committee meeting, will have to be done in “full public view,” according to the ruling. It also outlines that lawmakers use only traditional redistricting criteria and bans the use of any election data. Lawmakers may not use the unconstitutional maps as a starting point.

The judges did not authorize a stay pending any appeal in the case, but Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger indicated in a news release yesterday that there would not be more litigation forthcoming.

It’s not clear exactly why Republican lawmakers might not appeal the case — Berger just said they want to put this issue to rest once and for all — but Rick Hasen, Professor of Law and Political Science at UC Irvine, speculated about four possibilities.

  1. They know they will lose in the Democratic-dominated state supreme court, and there is no viable path to federal court review.
  2. They would rather NOT get a holding from the state Supreme Court (this was a three-judge trial court ruling), which would have greater precedential value.
  3. They hope they would have a better chance to have their “nonpartisan” map accepted by the Supreme Court if they throw in the towel (that is, they are trying to avoid a worse court-drawn map).
  4. They will use this ruling to run against the Supreme Court and try for a state constitutional amendment to give them the right to engage in partisan gerrymandering after the 2020 census.

Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore and redistricting leaders Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) and Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) never responded to an email seeking comment Tuesday from NC Policy Watch.

There’s not yet an agenda for the Monday meeting, which will be held at 1 p.m. in room 643 of the Legislative Office Building. It will be open to the public.

The court plans to appoint a “referee” in the case to help it review the new maps the General Assembly enacts and to draw alternative ones if necessary. All parties in Common Cause v. Lewis have until Friday to submit their recommended referees and qualifications to the court for appointment.

Meanwhile, Democrats and voting rights advocates from across the country continue to celebrate the ruling — which has been described as a blueprint for other states to consider reviewing their own redistricting processes. Former President Barack Obama on Twitter called the ruling a big win for North Carolina and everyone.

“Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around,” he wrote. “This win is proof that change is always within our reach, on gerrymandering, voting rights, and much more.”

Obama announced a new initiative last week, Redistricting U, to train and organize volunteers across the country in an effort to end partisan gerrymandering. North Carolina was identified as one of 10 priority states where the initiative could have an impact.

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