Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Court approves remedial legislative maps, strikes down 2016 congressional maps

A three-judge panel has approved remedial legislative districts that were enacted last month after the last ones were found to be an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The same panel, though, delivered news a few minutes later that they would require a new congressional map ahead of the 2020 election.

In the Common Cause v. Lewis ruling, the panel stated that lawmakers’ remedial process comported with their court order requiring they use certain redistricting criteria, not use partisan data and conduct redistricting in full public view.

The plaintiffs had objected to only five county-groupings in the House map, but the judges were satisfied with each, so they did not order that any be redrawn by the referee, Stanford Law Professor Nathaniel Persily.

In the Harper v. Lewis ruling, the same panel ruled that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their challenge that the 2016 congressional map in North Carolina is an extreme partisan gerrymander.

“Quite notably in this case, the 2016 congressional districts have already been the subject of years-long litigation in federal court arising from challenges to the districts on partisan gerrymandering grounds,” the order states. “As such, there is a detailed record of both the partisan intent and the intended partisan effects of the 2016 congressional districts drawn with the aid of Dr. Thomas Hofeller and enacted by the General Assembly.”

The judges noted in the order that the loss to the plaintiffs’ fundamental rights will “undoubtedly” be irreparable if congressional elections are allowed to proceed under the 2016 plan.

The legislative defendants in the case argued to the court that they too would suffer harm if the court issued an injunction, but the panel said voters’ rights were more important.

“Simply put, the people of our State will lose the opportunity to participate in congressional elections conducted freely and honestly to ascertain, fairly and truthfully, the will of the people,” the court document states. “The court finds that this specific harm to plaintiffs absent issuance of the injunction outweighs the potential harm to legislative defendants if the injunction is granted.”

The court invited the plaintiffs in Harper to file a motion for summary judgement in the case and noted that it would provide for an expedited schedule so that arguments could be heard prior to the close of the filing period for the 2020 primary election.

The order indicates that a disruption to the election process need not be necessary if the General Assembly acts on its own initiative “and with all due haste” to enact new congressional districts.

The panel said it does not presume to have any authority to compel lawmakers to draw new districts at such an early stage of litigation, but it noted that the General Assembly recently showed it has the capacity to enact new districts in a short amount of time “in a transparent and bipartisan manner.”

If lawmakers don’t move on their own, the court noted it can move the primary date for the congressional elections or all of the state’s 2020 primaries, including for offices other than congressional representatives.

Read both full orders below.



18 CVS 14001 10 28 19 Order (Text)



19 CVS 12667 10 28 19 Order (Text)

Courts & the Law, News

Order: Hofeller files will remain secret a little longer

A Wake County Superior Court judge has extended the confidentiality of the files of deceased GOP mapmaker Tom Hofeller.

The confidentiality of the documents, known as the Hofeller files, was set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, but Judge Vince Rozier entered an order Friday extending it to 11:59 p.m. Nov. 4.

Hofeller’s daughter, Stephanie Lizon Hofeller, turned over his electronic files after his death to the plaintiffs in a partisan gerrymandering lawsuit. The confidentiality of those files has been at issue almost during the pendency of that litigation, though 35 specific documents related to North Carolina redistricting in 2017 were released for a trial.

That case is still pending as a three-judge panel reviews remedial maps the General Assembly enacted. In the meantime, Rozier is deciding the issue of whether the rest of Hofeller’s thousands of files will become public.

The same three-judge panel reviewing those maps is also considering now whether to enjoin lawmakers from using the 2016 congressional map in next year’s election. They heard arguments in that partisan gerrymander challenge yesterday.

Read Rozier’s full order below.



18 CVS 14001 Order Ext Confidential Designation 10 25 19 (Text)

Courts & the Law, News

Judges weighing initial arguments to strike down 2016 congressional map ahead of 2020 election

Judges Alma Hinton, Paul Ridgeway and Joseph Crosswhite listen to arguments Thursday over a congressional partisan gerrymandering challenge. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

With just five weeks to go until congressional candidate filing opens for the 2020 election, a three-judge panel is considering throwing the 2016 congressional electorate map out and ordering new districts.

The move would be a bold one from a state court given upcoming election deadlines, but the plaintiffs in Harper v. Lewis argued Thursday that the harm North Carolina voters would suffer if they had to vote under that map would be too great not to act.

“Legislative defendants in their brief do say one thing that plaintiffs agree with,” said attorney Stanton Jones at the hearing for a preliminary injunction. “They say North Carolina’s voters deserve better, and they do. They deserve better than these maps. They deserve better than being treated like pawns in some cynical, partisan game.”

The plaintiffs argued that it is exceedingly clear that the 2016 congressional map is an extreme partisan gerrymander — legislators themselves admitted it and adopted specific partisan criteria to draw the plan — and that based on the ruling in Common Cause v. Lewis, it violates the North Carolina Constitution.

Common Cause v. Lewis is a separate partisan gerrymandering case in which the same three-judge panel in Harper — Judges Paul Ridgeway, Alma Hinton and Joseph Crosswhite — struck down the 2017 legislative maps because they unfairly disadvantaged Democratic voters. They are still reviewing remedial maps to decide if they pass muster.

Harper is a “totally different” case, but poses the same constitutional violations, according to the plaintiffs. In addition to lawmakers admitting the 2016 plan is a partisan gerrymander, there is a robust record in the federal court from previous litigation that outlines the facts of most of the case.

Kate McKnight, an attorney for legislative defendants, argued Thursday that a court should not throw out the 2016 congressional map before the 2020 election. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Kate McKnight, an attorney for the legislative defendants argued that the plaintiffs delayed in filing the lawsuit and that the election deadline is too tight, so a preliminary injunction is “categorically unavailable.”

“No court has done what plaintiffs are asking you to do, no matter how they slice the arguments, no matter how they slice the cases,” she said.

She said that the plaintiffs could not point to a single case where a court allowed a preliminary injunction so close to an election because of the serious disruption it would cause.

When Judge Ridgeway asked about the extent to which the underlying federal record would be available and help to expedite the case, McKnight contended that it was not substantial enough to make a ruling on.

Similarly, John Branch, an attorney for intervenors in the case — three Congressional incumbents in the next election — argued that the 2020 election had already started. He said his clients have spent time and money campaigning in their respective districts and that tossing the map out now would harm them and confuse their voters.

“There’s a reason why court after court this late in the election cycle has refused to allow injunctions,” he said.

In an unusual turn at the hearing, Special Deputy Attorney General Paul Cox said the State Board of Elections’ position on the matter was that an injunction would be appropriate in the case. He told the court that when the law is applied to the underlying facts of the case, they believe it will show the 2016 congressional map violates the state constitution.

Katelyn Love, general counsel for the State Board, said members did not decide on a stance at a previous closed session meeting, but rather the Attorney General’s Office represents them. Neither the State Board nor its representation took a stance in the Common Cause v. Lewis case, and in the previous Rucho v. Common Cause case, their stance was in line with the legislative defendants’.

Cox urged the court to move quickly, noting the State Board’s drop dead deadline for new districts would be Dec. 15, barring any complications.

The three-judge panel took arguments under advisement, but Ridgeway noted that the parties should be hearing from them “shortly,” given the time sensitive nature of the case.

Courts & the Law, News

House members wade into nonpartisan redistricting reform as session winds down

In the waning days of the legislative session, members of the House Redistricting Committee met Thursday morning to consider a trio of bills intended to make the drawing of electoral lines less partisan in the future.

Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson), a primary sponsor of H69 and H140, acknowledged constituents clearly have lost trust in the current map-making process.

“I heard from three different people yesterday – ‘I just want to get the legislature out of redistricting’ – Well that’s not gonna be possible unless you pass the constitutional amendment,” explained McGrady. “At this point and time, our constitution provides that our legislature has that role.”

Another challenge, according to McGrady is ensuring third party candidates will have a voice in developing a nonpartisan redistricting process.

“I know a lot of my colleagues do not believe there is any such thing as an unaffiliated voter these days, and so trying to figure out how you set up a commission or a process that engages unaffiliated voters or minor parties is tough.”

Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) used the opportunity to urge the committee to also look at House Bill 827, which would establish a North Carolina Citizens Redistricting Commission.

That Commission would ensure greater input by requiring lawmakers to hold at least 10 public hearings across the state before a preliminary plan could be released. Under HB 827, the new commission would also be subject to the state’s Public Records Act.

“Our purpose here is to build trust,” said Rep. Joe Sam Queen (D-Haywood), who urged his colleagues to be open to looking at other bills and best-practices.

Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), chair of the House Redistricting Committee said while it was premature to suggest they would be ready to vote on a final bill by the end of November, he would take all their concerns under advisement.

“We’re trying to find a system that works a little bit better than it has in the past,” he said.

Courts & the Law, News

State Board of Elections reminds schools, local governments about upcoming voter ID deadlines

The State Board of Elections sent out a reminder Wednesday to colleges and universities, charter schools and local governments about upcoming deadlines to submit applications for their IDs to be eligible for use by voters in 2020.

The state’s new voter ID law requires the State Board to confirm that an institution’s identification card meets certain requirements before it can be used to vote. The agency has already approved dozens of IDs of colleges and universities, charter schools and local and state governments, but there are still many others potentially eligible for use by voters that have not yet been approved.

The State Board stated it continues to work with North Carolina Community Colleges, the University of North Carolina System, the N.C. Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the N.C. Department of Instruction, the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, the N.C. League of Municipalities, the N.C. City and County Management Association and other groups to ensure their members are aware of the deadlines and details of the approval process.

State Board staff has sent reminders and conducted informational webinars about the process, according to a news release. If certain IDs are not approved, voters may still use another acceptable form of ID or get a free N.C. Voter ID from their county board of elections. A complete list of acceptable IDs can be found here.

“We want as many IDs as possible to be approved for voting purposes for this important election year in North Carolina,” said Karen Brinson Bell, State Board executive director. “We encourage these agencies and educational institutions to submit their approval forms and other required information to the State Board by the relevant deadline.”

See the chart below for information about upcoming voter ID deadlines:

 Approval statusAction required
If your identification card was approved on or before March 15, 2019:
That approval is valid until December 31, 2022.You do not need to resubmit at this time.
If your identification card has not yet been approved:The State Board of Elections must approve your submission on or before November 1, 2019, to ensure your identification cards may be used in elections held in 2020. If the State Board approves your institution’s submission, that approval is valid through December 31, 2020.In order to approve by the November 1, 2019 deadline, the State Board must receive your submission on or before October 26, 2019.
If your institution’s application was submitted on or before March 15, 2019, and your submission was denied:The State Board must approve previously disapproved identification cards no later than December 1, 2019, for use in elections held in 2020. If the State Board approves your institution’s submission, that approval is valid through December 31, 2020.You have until November 15, 2019, to submit a revised application for approval.