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Federal court officially appoints special master over legislative objections in racial gerrymandering case

A federal three-judge panel has overridden legislative leaders’ objection to a special master and officially appointed him to further review and possibly redraw state House and Senate districts to remedy unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

The panel announced last week that they would appoint Stanford Law School professor Nathaniel Persily to assist them in the case and then gave the parties in North Carolina v. Covington three days to object and then respond.

Legislative defendants objected and alleged that he could have conflicts of interest. The plaintiffs objected to their objection.

On Wednesday evening, they ordered Persily would officially be appointed as special master in the case.

“The State is not entitled to multiple opportunities to remedy its unconstitutional districts,” the order states. It later adds, “The Legislative Defendants’ specific objections to the identified Special Master are speculative and insubstantial, and they have not made an alternative suggestion despite the Court’s invitation to do so,” the order states.

Perkily is ordered to submit a report to the court by Dec. 1 after reviewing specific districts that could still be unconstitutional. The Senate districts are 21, in Hoke and Cumberland counties, and 28, in Guilford County. The House districts are 21, in Sampson, Duplin and Wayne counties, 36, 37, 40, 41, in Wake County, 57, in Guilford County and 105 in Mecklenburg County.

The panel also outlined specific criteria for redrawing the districts should it come to that. Persily may look at race data to make sure the new districts cure unconstitutional racial gerrymanders but he may not use election results. He can only consider incumbency protection to the extent it does not interfere with remedying constitutional violations.

The following judges serve on the panel: U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles and Thomas Schroeder and 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James Wynn. Eagles and Wynn were appointed by former President Barack Obama and Schroeder by George W. Bush.

You can read their full order and special master redistricting criteria here.

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