Courts & the Law, News

A guide to proposed judicial maps as Court Commission set to meet today

The North Carolina Courts Commission will meet at 10 a.m. today to review House Bill 717, which redraws the state’s judicial districts.

The meeting is open to the public and will be held in room 643 of the Legislative Office Building. The audio will be streamed online here.

NC Policy Watch released the judicial maps — prosecutorial, district and superior courts — with detailed information about which new district each of the state’s judges and district attorneys would fall under.

Here are some statistics on those judicial maps based on the maps NC Policy Watch created and demographic data provided to us Thursday by the Administrative Office of the Courts:

District Court:

There are 12 district court districts that double-bunk judges (pitting incumbents against each other in an election), 10 of which are majority Democrat. They include the following counties: Northampton, New Hanover, Cumberland, Hoke, Wake, Durham, Granville, Guilford, Gaston, Mecklenburg, Forsyth and Buncombe.

  • 32% of all current district court judges are double-bunked in the new proposed map
  • 53% of all Black or African-American district court judges are double-bunked; 47% are Black or African-American females and 65% are Black or African-American males (20% of district court judges are Black or African-American, but only 6% are Black or African-American males)
  • 50% of all Hispanic district court judges are double-bunked (there are only 2)
  • 50% of all district court judges who are considered “other or two or more races” are double-bunked (there are only 2)
  • 37% of female district court judges are double-bunked
  • 29% of male district court judges are double-bunked
  • 40% of all district court judges considered in the minority (female and or not-white and or both) are double-bunked

Superior Court:

In the superior court map, there are 10 districts with judges who are double-bunked, of which seven are majority Democrat. They include the following counties: Durham, Nash, New Hanover, Cumberland, Robeson, Union, Guilford, Rockingham, Orange and Buncombe.

  • 29% of all current superior court judges are double-bunked in the new proposed map
  • 28% of all Black or African-American superior court judges are double-bunked; 12.5% are Black or African-American females (only one of eight is double-bunked) and 40 percent are Black or African-American males
  • 50% of all American Indian or Alaskan Native superior court judges are double-bunked (there are only 2)
  • 29% of all white superior court judges are double-bunked
  • 26% of female superior court judges are double-bunked
  • 28% of male superior court judges are double-bunked
  • 29% of all superior court judges considered in the minority (female and or not-white and or both) are double-bunked

Prosecutorial:

There are three counties in the prosecutorial districts that double-bunk district attorneys — one Democrat and one Republican in Hoke and Moore counties; two Republicans in Henderson, Transylvania and Polk counties; and two Republicans in Surry and Stokes counties.

Courts & the Law, News

State Supreme Court sends one of oldest racial gerrymandering cases back to trial court

A North Carolina racial gerrymandering case that the U.S. Supreme Court sent back to the state Supreme Court has been punted to the trial court.

The order in Dickson v. Rucho was released Thursday.

“Pursuant to the Supreme Court’s remand and instruction, and after careful consideration, this Court remands this case to the trial court to determine whether (1) in light of Cooper v. Harris and North Carolina v. Covington, a controversy exists or if this matter is moot in whole or in part; (2) there are other remaining collateral state and or federal issues that require resolution; and (3) other relief may be proper.”

Justices decided Cooper v. Harris, formerly known as McCrory v. Harris, in May, leaving a lower court’s order in place that found North Carolina’s GOP drew unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered congressional districts.

They decided in North Carolina v. Covington a short time later that 28 of the state’s House and Senate districts were also racially gerrymandered. Lawmakers were forced to redraw those districts and there is a federal court hearing set for Oct. 12 to take up whether their remedial maps will be accepted or have to be redrawn again.

Dickson is one of the oldest redistricting cases and challenges North Carolina’a 2011 state legislative and congressional district maps. It originated in claims that the state in drawing the maps violated state and federal law not only by racially gerrymandering districts, but by splitting counties and disregarding traditional redistricting principles, according to a description at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Courts & the Law, News

Judicial maps move forward despite pleas to slow down from public, judicial stakeholders

Rep. Justin Burr presents House Bill 717, which remakes judicial districts, at a judicial redistricting committee meeting Wednesday. The bill passed and will move forward to the full chamber. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

H ouse Republicans in the judicial redistricting committee and two Democrats voted Wednesday to move judicial maps forward despite nearly four hours of debate and public comment that included numerous requests to slow down.

With few favorable amendments, the maps in House Bill 717 will remake the structure of the state’s court system, with particularly dramatic changes to urban areas.

The superior and district court and prosecutorial maps were secretly drawn by Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly, Montgomery) and released on Twitter in June without notice to or consultation of judicial stakeholders. They were reviewed over about a month, tweaked once by Burr and once through the committee process and then passed in a 21-8 vote to be sent to the full House for consideration.

The committee that met Wednesday was made up of 19 Republicans and 10 Democrats, with only one of the minority party’s several amendments for changes in the maps passing. Rep. Michael Wray (D-Halifax, Northampton) and Rep. William D. Brisson (D-Bladen, Johnston, Sampson) voted with Republicans to pass Burr’s maps.

“It is long overdue for the General Assembly to update the framework of our judicial districts to reflect North Carolina’s changing needs and growth,” Burr said.

He told the committee that “disenfranchised voters” in certain Mecklenburg County districts inspired him to reform the state’s judiciary. He added that he considered available resources, population, geography and only recently caseload, but not race, in the mapmaking process.

The maps

The most recent version of the judicial maps, before amendments, were released just before midnight Monday.

The maps released by the legislature did not include information about which judges and district attorneys in which districts would be affected. NC Policy Watch released maps Tuesday containing that information.

Most of the counties in the district and superior court maps are whole districts but urban counties are split into multiple districts. Wake, Durham, Guilford, Forsyth and Buncombe counties would no longer vote county-wide in district court judicial elections.

Maps released Tuesday by NC Policy Watch detail the outcome of each district proposed in House Bill 717.

There are 12 district court districts that double-bunk judges (pitting incumbents against each other in an election), 10 of which are majority Democrat. They include the following counties: Northampton, New Hanover, Cumberland, Hoke, Wake, Durham, Granville, Guilford, Gaston, Mecklenburg, Forsyth and Buncombe.

There are judicial vacancies in 24 district court districts, 13 of which are majority Republican. They include the following counties: Nash, Lenoir, Pender, Columbus, Robeson, Cumberland, Harnett, Wake, Durham, Alamance, Rockingham, Durham, Guilford, Surry, Forsyth, Davie, Mecklenburg, Iredell, Wilkes, Burke, Rutherford, Henderson, Buncombe, Stanly and Chatham.

In the superior court map, there are 9 districts with judges who are double-bunked, of which seven are majority Democrat. They include the following counties: Nash, New Hanover, Cumberland, Robeson, Union, Guilford, Rockingham, Orange and Buncombe.

There are 18 superior court districts with judicial vacancies — three are majority Republican and six don’t currently have any sitting judges. They include the following counties: Beaufort, Granville, Duplin, New Hanover, Bladen, Johnston, Cumberland, Moore, Stanley, Randolph, Guilford, Iredell, Wake, Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Gaston, Cleveland and Buncombe.

There are three counties in the prosecutorial districts that double-bunk district attorneys — one Democrat and one Republican in Hoke and Moore counties; two Republicans in Henderson, Transylvania and Polk counties; and two Republicans in Surry and Stokes counties.  Read more

Courts & the Law, News

Federal judges set hearing in racial gerrymandering case

The federal three-judge panel overseeing the redrawing of racially gerrymandered legislative districts set a hearing in the case to take place Oct. 12 in Greensboro.

All documents in the case have been filed and the court is set to make a decision about whether lawmakers’ proposed legislative maps will be accepted as is or if they need to be redrawn, possibly by a special master.

The plaintiffs in North Carolina v. Covington have objected to 12 of the newly drawn remedial districts and submitted alternative maps to be considered by the court. They allege that four districts are still racially gerrymandered.

Republican legislators contend they did not consider race in the mapmaking process, despite calls from Democratic lawmakers, the public and voting rights advocates to use the criterion as a measure for correcting the longstanding constitutional violations.

The hearing in Greensboro is set to begin at 10 a.m. and is open to the public. Electronics are not permitted in the courtroom and members of the public who attend the hearing will be required to show courthouse officials their photo identification.

Courts & the Law, News

Superior Court judges hire lobbyists; merit selection plan could be unveiled by end of October

Tracy Kimbrell and Nathan Babcock

The North Carolina Conference of Superior Court Judges hired two lobbyists this week to be their “eyes and ears” in Raleigh.

The lobbyists are Nathan Babcock and Tracy Kimbrell, both of the Parker Poe law firm. The president of the Conference, Superior Court Judge Joe Crosswhite, who serves district 22A in Alexander and Iredell counties, said the lobbyists weren’t hired in response to any particular bill or policy decision.

“There’s a lot of talk in Raleigh, and we just needed somebody to be our eyes and ears,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Our judges, we’re out working all the time.”

He added that the Conference hired the lobbyists on a short-term basis, through the end of October. When the group, which has about 120 members, meets again next month, it will decide how to proceed.

The move comes a little over a month after the North Carolina Association of District Court Judges hired two well-known lobbyists, Charles Neely Jr. and Richard Zechini, of the Williams Mullen law firm. That group hired lobbyists in reaction to a judicial redistricting bill that is currently making its way through the House.

Crosswhite said House Bill 717 was part of the reason for the Conference hiring lobbyists, “but that was not all of it at all.”

Before joining Parker Poe, Babcock was the political director for the North Carolina Chamber, where he successfully lobbied for comprehensive legislative priorities including education, tax reform, tort reform, unemployment insurance reform and transportation funding modifications, according to his biography.

Kimbrell served as general counsel for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger from 2010 to 2013. In 2012, she served as the acting chief of staff in the Senate leader’s legislative office.

She also previously worked at the General Assembly in the office of the Senate Minority Leader, researching and monitoring legislative matters on behalf of the Senate Republican Caucus. She later worked on a Republican gubernatorial campaign.

Kimbrell confirmed in an email Wednesday afternoon that she and Babcock did register as lobbyists for the Conference and said neither had a comment to offer at this time.

Judicial redistricting isn’t the only courts-related agenda action item on the General Assembly’s schedule this year. The Senate has been floating a potential merit-selection plan to various groups over the last couple months.

Crosswhite confirmed Wednesday that the Conference is scheduled to meet with Berger’s chief of staff, Jim Blaine, next week to hear a presentation on merit selection. He said it’s something the Conference has talked about but wanted to wait for a lobbyist to get on board before meeting with Blaine.

He also praised the Senate for having a candid process as merit selection is considered.

“They have been very responsive and very helpful and very willing to sit down and talk with us about it,” Crosswhite said.

The Conference has not yet adopted a position on merit selection and Crosswhite said it will wait to see what the actual proposal is before doing so. He added that it’s expected the Senate will unveil its merit selection process by the end of October.

Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly, Montgomery) indicated last week that the General Assembly could pass new judicial maps and put a merit selection constitutional amendment on the ballot, which would allow voters to decide which process would go into effect.

Crosswhite reiterated that the Conference is not a political organization.

“We needed help and that’s what this is,” he said of hiring lobbyists. “October will be an active month.”