- A federal lawsuit from two eastern NC residents challenges North Carolina's new state Senate map.
- The suit claims the Senate map uses racial gerrymandering to dilute votes of black residents in northeastern North Carolina.
- An emergency motion tied to the suit seeks to have the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction resolved by Dec. 1.
The first lawsuit targeting a 2023 election map in North Carolina takes aim at state Senate districts. Two individual plaintiffs filed suit Monday against the State Board of Elections and state legislative leaders.
In a separate emergency motion, the plaintiffs set out a schedule to have their request for a preliminary injunction resolved next week, days before candidate filing is scheduled to begin for 2024 elections.
“Despite having ample evidence of racially polarized voting and a history of discrimination in the ‘Black Belt counties’ of northeastern North Carolina, and an obligation under the Voting Rights Act to analyze that evidence before drawing districts, the North Carolina General Assembly adopted a Senate plan that unlawfully deprives Black voters of the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice,” according to the complaint filed on behalf of plaintiffs Rodney Pierce and Moses Matthews.
The plaintiffs are working with Washington-based attorneys from Arnold & Porter Kay Scholer, veterans of North Carolina redistricting battles. They are also working with Raleigh-based Edwin Speas, who defended Democratic election maps as a state Justice Department lawyer before joining the private sector.
Pierce, who is black, is a lifelong resident of Halifax County who teachers social studies in Northampton County Schools. “Defendants have assigned him and all other Halifax County voters to Senate District 2 in the 2023 enacted map, thereby diluting the weight of his vote compared to the vote of white citizens,” according to the complaint. “Senate District 2 in the 2023 enacted map is a majority-white district in which Black voters like Mr. Pierce do not have an opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. A majority-Black district could be drawn incorporating all of Halifax County, including Mr. Pierce’s residence.”
Matthews, who is also black, is a retiree and has voted in Martin County since 1976. “Defendants have assigned him and all other Martin County voters to Senate District 2 in the 2023 enacted map, thereby diluting the weight of his vote compared to the vote of white citizens. Senate District 2 in the 2023 enacted map is a majority-white district in which Black voters like Mr. Matthews do not have an opportunity to elect their preferred candidates,” according to the complaint. “A majority-Black district could be drawn incorporating all of Martin County, including Mr. Matthews’ residence.”
The suit labels North Carolina’s state Senate map, Senate Bill 758, “just the most recent episode in North Carolina’s ‘long history of race discrimination generally and race-based vote suppression in particular.’”
“The Black population in North Carolina’s Black Belt counties is sufficiently numerous and geographically compact to form a majority-minority district,” the suit argues. “Voting in the region is also highly polarized along racial lines — Black voters there are politically cohesive, but white voters vote sufficiently as a bloc to usually defeat minority candidates of choice. Nonetheless, SB 758 ‘cracks’ Black voters in the region across multiple districts, including Senate District 2, which stretches more than 160 miles from the Virginia border to Carteret County on the Atlantic Ocean.”
“When considered against the totality of the circumstances, SB 758’s cracking of Black voters in this region dilutes their voting strength in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers argued.
Pierce and Matthews seek an order blocking the state Senate map from taking effect. They want a federal court to order a “remedial plan” with a “minority opportunity district in the Black Belt counties.”
Under a timeline spelled out in the emergency motion, the plaintiffs would file their motion for preliminary injunction by Wednesday. A response from the State Board of Elections and legislative leaders would be due Nov. 27. Any oral argument would take place Nov. 29, with a decision on a preliminary injunction by Dec. 1.
Candidate filing is scheduled to begin Dec. 4 and last through Dec. 15 for the March 2024 primary.