Special master in racial gerrymandering case releases first round of redrawn legislative districts

A special master appointed almost two weeks ago by a federal court to examine and potentially redraw parts of the state House and Senate maps released his proposed plan to correct unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

Stanford Law professor Nathaniel Persily’s maps redraw Senate districts in Cumberland, Hoke and Guilford counties and House districts in Sampson, Wayne, Mecklenburg, Guilford and Wake counties.

The legislature already redrew state House and Senate districts to correct areas found by the court to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The court, however, remained concerned about the constitutionality of several districts and ordered Persily to further examine and possibly redraw them.

His report is due to the court by Dec. 1. He wrote in the order released Monday that he released his plans early to “give the parties time to lodge objections and to make suggestions, as to unpairing incumbents or otherwise, that might be accommodated in the final plan to be delivered to the Court by December 1.”

Persily did not take account incumbency in the “draft plan” he released because the plaintiffs and legislative defendants only just released their incumbent lists last week — there are two lists because of a dispute about whether Larry Bell (D-Duplin, Sampson, Wayne) is an incumbent. He signed a declaration to the court that he is not running for reelection.

Both lists are the same with the exception of Bell’s name, which is included in the plaintiffs’ list but not the legislative defendants’.

The parties in North Carolina v. Covington are asked to “propose alterations” to the draft plan to incorporate incumbency. However, the final plan will only accommodate such changes if they do not degrade the courts’ specific orders to correct constitutional violations, Persily’s order states.

“Underlying the Court’s prohibition on examining election returns or prioritizing incumbency is reliance on a bedrock principle that the Special Master’s Plan shall be constructed in a nonpartisan fashion,” the document states. “This is not to say that the plan will not have partisan, incumbency-related, or other electoral effects — all redistricting plans do. Rather, the principles that guide the production of the plan must be nonpartisan in nature and the changes to the districts must be explainable on that basis. The Special Master’s Draft Plan was drawn without consideration of the location of incumbents’ residences, so that the incorporation of incumbency in the final plan can be achieved on a nonpartisan basis.”

Pictured are the special master’s proposed plans for Senate districts 19 (Cumberland) and 21 (Hoke) compared to GOP enacted redraws.

At first glance, Persily’s maps are obviously different than GOP lawmakers’ initial redraw with more compact districts and less squiggly lines. He explains the changes in each district in the Monday order.

In Senate districts 19 (Cumberland) and 21 (Hoke), Persily moved Hoke County north and took in all of Spring Lake “and just enough of Fayetteville so as to comply with one person one vote.” He wrote that by drawing the districts in that way, it avoided “the jutting arm into Fayetteville.”

In Guilford County, Persily wrote that his lines were more compact.

“The newly drawn district is contained almost completely within the city (CDP) of Greensboro, and is made up of whole precincts,” the order states.

Persily smoothed out the border in House district 21, which contains Sampson County, “thereby avoiding the selective inclusion of heavily African American precincts that characterized the 2011 and 2017 versions of the district. The District continues to retain its configuration in Wayne County, which is principally defined by the boundaries of Goldsboro.”

Pictured is the special master’s plan to redraw House district 57, Guilford County.

He moved House district 57, Guilford County, north and west to create a compact district in north Greensboro, the order states. Previously, the district retained “a backwards ‘L shape’ along the eastern side of Greensboro, according to the Court, it perpetuates the racial predominance of its predecessor district by over-concentrating the African American population in the area.”

Unlike the other House districts, areas in Wake and Mecklenburg counties were redrawn to comply with a state Constitution provision that prevents lawmakers from mid-decade redistricting.

In his order, Persily requests that the parties in Covington submit their proposed objections and revisions by the end of this week with replies due by Nov. 21.

GOP legislative defendants objected to Persily’s appointment. The state of North Carolina was ordered to pick up his tab at $500 per hour, or half his usual rate.

The federal judges presiding over the case in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina are 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.

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