About $2.9 million in taxpayer money has gone to law firms Republican legislators hired to do redistricting work for them in the last round of map-drawing, work that included representing GOP leaders in redistricting lawsuits.
Invoices from law firms for redistricting work date from late November 2021 to July 2022, according to an accounting from the Legislative Services Office that NC Policy Watch obtained through a public records request. The payments over those months went to two law firms, Baker & Hostetler and Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough. Phillip Strach is partner at Nelson Mullins and often takes the lead in oral arguments in North Carolina redistricting cases. Thomas Farr is another partner with the firm who has represented North Carolina Republicans though several rounds of redistricting litigation since at least 2001.
The list of invoices does not include any from Cooper & Kirk, the Washington law firm representing legislators before the U.S. Supreme Court in Moore vs. Harper. In that pivotal case, Republican legislators are seeking to bar state courts from hearing cases concerning congressional redistricting and other matters related to elections for federal offices. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments in that case late this year or early next year.
Voting rights groups and voters backed by the National Redistricting Foundation sued Republican legislators over congressional and legislative districts the Republican-led General Assembly approved last year.
The legislature must redraw election maps after each census to balance populations in districts. North Carolina’s population growth resulted in the state gaining a 14th congressional seat.
North Carolina has a decades-long history of legal battles over plans for election districts, and this year’s redistricting fit that pattern.
The state Supreme Court in February struck down the congressional and legislative maps, saying they were partisan gerrymanders that violated the state constitution. The court’s four Democrats ordered the maps thrown out, while its three Republicans dissented.
After that court loss, the legislature redrew the state House, state Senate, and congressional maps. A three-judge panel accepted the redrawn maps for state House and Senate, but rejected the legislature’s second attempt at a congressional plan. The three Superior Court judges drew the congressional districts with the help of three special masters. That court-drawn map is in place for the 2022 election.
Lawyers on both sides of the case filed motions at every step.
Lawmakers aren’t done with redistricting. North Carolina’s congressional map is good for one election cycle. The legislature intends to redraw congressional districts in time for the 2024 election.
Some of the same lawyers North Carolina Republicans hired also worked on redistricting in Ohio and Louisiana. Baker & Hostetler worked with Louisiana Republicans this year, according to the Louisiana Illuminator. Strach and Farr helped represent the Louisiana secretary of state in a racial gerrymandering case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court this year.
Republican legislative leaders in Ohio hired Strach and Farr to represent them in court challenges and to advise the state’s Legislative Task Force on Redistricting, the Ohio Capital Journal reported.