Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Responses filed in lawmakers’ request to block special master’s districts

A federal court should not block its decision to use a special master’s legislative districts because lawmakers’ legal arguments are groundless and unlikely to prevail on appeal, according to a new filing.

A three-judge panel decided last week that Stanford law professor Nathaniel Persily’s redrawing of nine legislative districts would be enacted for the 2018 elections instead of the General Assembly’s maps. Lawmakers immediately requested a stay, citing their intent to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The plaintiffs in the racial gerrymandering case responded Tuesday and told the court that lawmakers were again trying to delay, which would result in further harm to voters.

“Further, when balancing the equities, it is clear that granting the stay would only serve to prolong and exacerbate the constitutional harms from which Plaintiffs have suffered for the better part of the decade,” the response states. “In contrast, the slight administrative inconvenience of implementing a handful of new districts in time for the opening of the filing period — but nearly five months before the regularly scheduled primary election — cannot justify subjecting North Carolinians to yet another election under unconstitutional maps.”

A response was also filed Tuesday on behalf of the state and the Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

“The State takes no position on the Motion, but it believes that a swift decision on a remedy
would advance the public interest,” the document states.

You can read both motions below.

Plaintiff Response Sm Stay by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

State Response Sm Stay by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

House, Senate agreement on judicial reform won’t come this week

Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett)

It could be awhile before North Carolina sees judicial reform come to pass.

Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), a co-chair of the joint House and Senate committee on judicial reform and redistricting, said the two chambers aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on which proposed plan is best for the state.

“But we’re continuing to talk, and in this building that’s a good thing because often times people get kind of dug in and they don’t continue to engage,” he said. “I can say at least the co-chairs of this committee have continued to engage and to be forth-coming with each other.”

The Senate has been pushing for a merit selection plan to select judges, which would require a constitutional amendment approved by the voters, and the House prefers a plan that redraws all judicial and prosecutorial districts.

It was reported that the General Assembly would be voting on some form of judicial change this week, but Lewis indicated it could be awhile before there is agreement. When asked if something would be passed this year though, he was hopeful.

“I really believe that we will continue to explore this, and if it is practical — if we can make a good enough case — that you may see some changes to the districts,” he said.

Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly, Montgomery), the author of House Bill 717 — the judicial redistricting measure — unveiled new maps Monday at the joint committee meeting.

The new maps sparked heated debate from Democrats.

“You’ve changed the way we elect our county commissioners, you’ve tried to change the way we elect our city council and now you want to change the way we elect our judges?” asked Sen. Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe).

In all of Burr’s judicial maps, he split Buncombe County into multiple districts, which would mean judges would no longer run for election at large.

Van Duyn has adamantly opposed such a change and tried to get an explanation for why other counties of similar population in the maps were not split up. She believes it’s because the county votes Democrat.

Burr hasn’t really answered her question other than to point out that Buncombe is an urban county and other urban areas were also split.

“I just don’t understand,” she said Monday in frustration.

House and Senate Democratic leaders, Sen. Dan Blue and Rep. Darren Jackson, both of Wake County, tried to ascertain during the meeting what criteria Burr used to draw the maps, but his answers weren’t substantive and were inconsistent.

“You’re not letting us participate,” Jackson said.

He added that he would be happy to contribute by drawing judicial districts if the committee chairs could give him the list of criteria used for Burr’s maps and provide a stat-pack.

When other Democratic members continued to grill Burr about the maps, Lewis and Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Burke, Cleveland) asked them to stop and said Burr was only there to present information about how the new maps differed from the old maps.

Lewis also said the maps Monday were not final.

“It will continue to be changed, in fact some of the chairs are meeting with the delegation from Guilford County today and there are some more changes that are going to come,” he said. “I think there’s been progress made; we’re just not to the point yet where we can say we think we’re there.”

Lewis also said merit selection was not as far along as judicial redistricting. There was not a presentation Monday of a proposed plan.

“Obviously merit selection is something that’s been talked about in the halls of the General Assembly for 30 or 40 years,” he said. “It is something that I think we are possibly getting close to, and it’s become very politicized at the moment. People that have actually championed it and sponsored bills to support it in the past are now opposed to it, so I don’t know that we’re making a great deal of progress on merit selection.”

The next committee meeting has not yet been scheduled.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Lawmakers ask lower court to stay special master order pending appeal to Supreme Court

A court’s order to implement a special master’s legislative districts before the 2018 elections is disrupting candidate filing plans, according to a few Republican lawmakers.

The legislative defendants in North Carolina v. Covington, the state’s ongoing racial gerrymandering case, filed a request Sunday to stay the order to use Stanford law professor Nathaniel Persily’s plan.

“Since August 31, 2017, voters and candidates have become accustomed to the 2017 plans and have been making electoral plans using those districts,” the request states. “Now, just a few weeks before candidate filing, this Court has disrupted those plans, and thrown months of planning into confusion.”

Persily’s plan has been available to voters and legislative candidates since Dec. 1. It’s also widely known that some of the districts drawn by the General Assembly were being litigated and could be rejected by the court.

Lawmakers requested the stay pending an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. They state in the request that the Supreme Court “will likely reverse” the three-judge panel’s decision.

“This Court clearly lacked the jurisdiction and authority to impose new districts in Wake and Mecklenburg counties where none of the 2017 districts were challenged as continuing to be racial gerrymanders,” it states.

Plaintiffs in Covington challenged those districts based on a state constitutional prohibition on mid-decade redistricting. Legislative defendants argued in court that they could redraw them because of a ripple effect caused by being forced to fix nearby districts.

Lawmakers asked for a ruling on the stay by the end of the day today, but U.S. District Court Thomas Schroeder ordered that parties to the case have until 5 p.m. tomorrow to respond to the request.

You can read the full request below:

Lower Court Request for Stay SM by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Federal court adopts special master’s legislative districts for 2018 elections

The North Carolina redistricting news just keeps on coming: Today, a federal court ordered that a special master’s legislative redistricting plan be adopted for the 2018 elections.

Stanford Law Professor Nathaniel Persily redrew nine of the 28 state House and Senate districts found to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders after the General Assembly’s maps didn’t remedy the violations, according to the court.

The three-judge panel’s decision to use Persily’s plan was unanimous and explained thoroughly in the 92-page order. It affects Senate districts in Cumberland, Hoke and Guilford counties and House districts in Bladen, Sampson, Wayne, Mecklenburg, Guilford and Wake counties. All other districts will remain as adopted by the legislature.

The candidate filing deadline is a little less than a month away and runs through the end of February. Persily’s plan pairs only two incumbents against each other in Senate District 27 in Guilford County — Republican Trudy Wade and Democrat Gladys Robinson.

The executive director of the state’s Republican party indicated on social media yesterday that lawmakers would appeal the federal court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court if it was not in their favor. Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) and Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) confirmed Friday that they would appeal the case.

The decision comes less than a day after the Supreme Court blocked the same court’s order for lawmakers to redraw the 2016 congressional map because of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.

GOP legislative leaders — House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger — were silent on social media after the Friday decision and did not respond to a request for comment.

Lewis and Hise released a joint statement online.

“It is a shocking move for one of the same judges just reigned in by a bipartisan U.S. Supreme Court less than 24 hours ago to again attempt to create chaos and confusion in an election process set to begin in just three weeks,” they wrote.

It should be noted that Persily’s plan has been available to lawmakers and the public since Dec. 1.

The NCGOP criticized the court’s decision on Twitter.

“It is clear that the three Judge panel had no intention of allowing the #NCGA to fulfill its constitutional role in Redistricting,” the tweet from Dallas Woodhouse states. “It is now up to #SCOTUS to preserve the role of State Legislatures Under our Constitutional System.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest also weighed in on the social media site.

“If a power-hungry federal court can order that a California-based professor gets to usurp the North Carolina legislature’s constitutional authority to draw election maps, then there is no limit to federal judicial power,” he wrote. “This is nothing short of judicial tyranny. #ncpol #ncga.”

Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said she hopes lawmakers will respect “the reasoned opinion of this court that this kind of race discrimination has no place in our democracy.”

“We appreciate the input and guidance of the special master and the court to fully eliminate the unconstitutional use of race to segregate voters in North Carolina state legislative districts,” she said. “North Carolinians across this state fought for fair districts.”

Democracy North Carolina Executive Director Tomas Lopez applauded the federal court for implementing Persily’s plan.

“For too long, North Carolinians have had their voices quieted by maps that packed and cracked their political power,” he said. “We hope today’s ruling will lead legislative leaders to finally allow voters an opportunity to pick their lawmakers, not the other way around.”

The state’s Democratic party called the order a “key victory” and a major step toward fair representation.

“Republicans unconstitutionally rigged our elections for years, silencing North Carolina voters, in particular communities of color,” said Chairman Wayne Goodwin. “We applaud the court’s decision and look forward to competing in fairer districts across the state.”

You can read the court’s decision in full below.

SM order by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Report: Judicial redistricting picking up speed; deal could be reached next week

The Associated Press is reporting that a judicial redistricting deal could be reached by the end of next week.

House Speaker Tim Moore told colleagues to be prepared for full work sessions and votes starting Tuesday, according to the AP article.

The joint House and Senate Committee on Judicial Reform and Redistricting meets at 1 p.m. Monday in room 643 of the Legislative Office Building. It will be the committee’s second meeting.

Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly, Montgomery) introduced House Bill 717, which redraws all judicial and prosecutorial districts, at the end of the last regular session.

He has since released a number of maps, none of which were drawn collaboratively through a committee process. The Senate also recently released its own set of maps, also drawn in private. It’s unknown which maps would be voted on next week.

The Senate has shown more preference for “merit” selection over judicial redistricting, but Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Burke), a co-chair of the joint committee, was quoted in the AP article saying the chambers could strike a deal by the end of next week.

“Merit” selection would require a constitutional amendment to be approved by North Carolina voters.

Moore, Burr and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger did not return an email from NC Policy Watch seeking comment about possible votes next week.