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Panel of judges says new redistricting plans do not violate the NC constitution

Maps for new congressional and legislative districts do not violate the state constitution and can be used in the next election, a three-judge panel said in a decision Tuesday that will be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The NC League of Conservation Voters, Common Cause, the state NAACP, and voters backed by the National Redistricting Foundation challenged the maps, saying they are extreme partisan gerrymanders that dilute Black voters’ power. The three cases have been consolidated.

The same three-judge panel last year dismissed or ruled against these lawsuits.

The state Supreme Court granted the challengers’ requests for expediated appeals. The Supreme Court halted candidate filing for the 2022 primaries, and moved the primaries from March 8 to May 17.

A lawyer representing Common Cause called Tuesday’s ruling disappointing but indicated that an appeal is coming.

“While this ruling is disappointing, all signs ultimately point to the N.C. Supreme Court resolving the case,” Hilary Harris Klein, senior counsel for voting rights at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said in a statement.

“We remain confident that our conclusive evidence of partisan bias, obfuscation, and attacks on Black representation, from expert testimony to mapmakers’ own admissions, will convince the state’s highest court to protect voters from nefarious efforts to entrench partisan power at the expense of free elections and fair representation.”

In last week’s trial, a parade of mathematicians and political scientists said the districts legislative Republicans approved were outliers skewed to Republican advantage and rarely, if ever, could be reproduced using computer algorithms, NC Policy Watch reported. One redistricting expert, Moon Duchin of Tufts University, said the gerrymandered districts resisted changes in voter preferences. Even in good election years for Democrats, the state would elect 10 Republicans and four Democrats to the US House, she found.

The three-judge panel agreed that some of the analyses showed the map-makers “packed” and cracked” Democratic votes to achieve Republican majorities in state congressional delegation and in the state legislature.

The judges agreed with one analysis “that the State House and Senate plans are extreme outliers that ‘systematically favor the Republican Party to an
extent which is rarely, if ever, seen in the non-partisan collection of maps.'”

Challengers claimed map-drawers sliced the most populous counties, Mecklenburg, Wake, and Guilford, more than needed with the aim of maximizing GOP advantages in congressional races.  Those three counties are heavily Democratic.  Democratic voters in Guilford are parceled out among three congressional districts dominated by Republican voters.

The judges wrote that the congressional plan created a district in Charlotte that is more heavily Democratic than would be expected from redistricting principles the legislature adopted or by “political geography,” or where voters live.

“The Court finds that the packing and cracking of Democrats in the Piedmont Triad Area, the Research Triangle Area, and Mecklenburg County could not have resulted naturally from the region’s political geography or the districting principles required by the Adopted Criteria. The enacted congressional map was therefore designed in order to accomplish the legislature’s predominant partisan goals,” the decision says.

The judges were not convinced by all the testimony, writing that there are limitations to comparing elections by district to statewide election results.

“These statewide races have one thing in common, that is, the elected positions have very little in common with the legislative and congressional races except that they all occur in North Carolina,” the judges wrote.  “The function and responsibilities of our legislature and our members of congress differ from these statewide and national offices. Also, these races do not take into account the individual needs and issues that are important to each of the 170 legislative districts and 14 congressional districts at issue.”

Challengers’ lawsuit claims that the redistricting plans violate state constitutional guarantees under the Free Election, Equal Protection, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly clauses.

In 2019, a three-judge panel decided in favor of redistricting map challengers who cited those clauses. Lawmakers were forced to redraw legislative districts for the 2020 election.

The judges’ said in their decision Tuesday that the new redistricting plans do not violate any of those constitutional clauses, and that there was no evidence districts were drawn to discriminate against Black voters.

“Redistricting is a political process that has serious political consequences,” the decision says. “It is one of the purest political questions which the legislature alone is allowed to answer. Were we as a Court to insert ourselves in the manner requested, we would be usurping the political power and prerogatives of an equal branch of government. Once we embark on that slippery slope, there would be no corner of legislative or executive power that we could not reach.”

Andrew Taylor, a political scientist at NC State University, testified last week that the sections of the state constitution challengers cited do not apply to redistricting, NC Policy Watch reported.

Rep. Destin Hall, the House Redistricting Committee chairman, said in his deposition and in last week’s testimony that he asked a top aide to create “concept” maps for districts. Those maps were created out of public view and not on the legislative committee room terminals set up for the public to monitor map creation.

This despite Republicans’ repeated assurances that all the redistricting plans were created on the public terminals and without outside consultants.

Hall said in his deposition he wanted the “concept maps” to use as a game plan. Hall downplayed the significance of those maps in his testimony last week.

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