Legislators hope to consolidate two of three federal redistricting lawsuits

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  • State legislative leaders are urging federal judges to consolidate two of three lawsuits filed against North Carolina's new statewide election maps.
  • Both suits target the congressional map. One also challenges state House and Senate maps.
  • Three-judge panels are assigned to hear both cases. Two judges sit on both panels.
  • Plaintiffs in the two cases oppose consolidation, according to lawmakers' latest court filings.

Top state legislative leaders filed paperwork Thursday in federal court to consolidate two of the three lawsuits challenging North Carolina’s new statewide election maps. Lawmakers’ court filing suggests that plaintiffs in the two cases oppose the plan.

“Two sets of Plaintiffs sued Legislative Defendants and the North Carolina State Board of Elections (“NCSBE”) and its members challenging the Congressional redistricting plan ratified by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2023,” lawmakers’ lawyers wrote. “One set also challenged the state legislative plans also ratified in 2023.”

“In both cases, Plaintiffs allege that the enacted plans constitute racial gerrymanders in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution,” the court filing continued. “Because both cases raise constitutional challenges to North Carolina’s 2023 districting plans, both cases have already been assigned to two different three-judge panels.”

“Given how closely related the two sets of claims are, and the significant factual, legal, and party overlap between them, consolidation is warranted, appropriate, and indeed necessary for the administration of justice (and of elections in North Carolina),” lawmakers’ lawyers argued. “Both cases involve common questions of law and fact, and consolidation will avoid the substantial risk of inconsistent adjudication of those questions of law and fact, as well as burdensome and unnecessary duplication of costs and expense on the part of the parties.”

“The elimination of duplicate work will also benefit judicial economy, allowing a single panel to decide the complex constitutional and statutory issues raised in these actions,” according to the court filing.

Plaintiffs in the case titled Williams v. Hall filed suit on Dec. 4 against North Carolina’s new congressional election map. A separate case filed on Dec. 19, NC State Conference of the NAACP v. Berger, challenges the congressional map along with maps for the state House and Senate.

Separate three-judge panels are assigned to address the cases. Appeals Court Judge Allison Jones Rushing and District Judge Richard Myers sit on both panels. District Judge Thomas Schroeder fills the third slot on one panel, while District Judge William Osteen fills the third slot on the other panel. Republican presidents appointed all four of those judges to their jobs.

Legislators’ motion calls for one panel to hear both cases.

The North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, left-of-center activist group Common Cause, and eight individual plaintiffs want federal courts to block North Carolina’s new maps for US House, state House, and state Senate elections. They argue that the maps are based on unconstitutional racial gerrymandering.

They filed suit on Dec. 19, four days after candidate filing ended under the challenged maps.

“In 2023, the North Carolina General Assembly redrew its state legislative and congressional plans to severely diminish the voting power of North Carolina’s Black voters, who comprise over 22% of residents in the state,” according to the 87-page complaint. “The General Assembly achieved this by intentionally dismantling existing and longstanding Black opportunity districts and diluting Black voting power in North Carolina’s historic Black Belt, which stretches across the northeastern portion of the state, and by selectively targeting Black voters in other areas of the state. The effect of these actions is to inequitably reduce the electoral influence of the Black voters of North Carolina in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the United States Constitution.”

Plaintiffs are working with lawyers from the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice, along with a law firm with offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.

The lawsuit says state legislators adopted their maps for state House, state Senate, and congressional races “using an intentionally rushed and deficient process that denied any opportunity for meaningful engagement and showed clear disregard for the interests, needs, and desires of North Carolina’s Black voters.”

The suit specifically targets state Senate Districts 1, 2, 7, and 8; state House Districts 4, 5, 7, 10, 12, 24, 25, and 32; and Congressional Districts 1, 5, 6, 9, and 10.

Plaintiffs urge the court to enjoin state officials from “calling, holding, supervising, or certifying any elections” under the challenged maps. The suit also calls for a remedial process that would produce new maps “in time for use no later than the 2026 general election and beyond.”

In the Williams case, 18 black and Latino plaintiffs working with Democratic lawyer Marc Elias’ law firm target only the congressional map. They took their case to court on the same afternoon that candidate filing began for the state’s 2024 elections.

The suit specifically targets the new 1st, 6th, 12th, and 14th Congressional Districts as “unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.”

Plaintiffs ask a federal court to declare that the congressional map “discriminates against minority voters in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.” They seek an injunction blocking enforcement of the congressional map. They ask the court to “[h]old hearings, consider briefing and evidence, and otherwise take actions” that would lead to a “valid” congressional plan.

The suit names Rep. Destin Hall, R-Caldwell, as lead defendant. Hall chairs the state House’s redistricting committee. Plaintiffs also name as co-defendants the three state Senate redistricting chairmen, the top officers in the state House and Senate, and the State Board of Elections and its individual members.

The map used in 2022, drawn by experts working with court-appointed “special masters,” produced a US House delegation with seven Democrats and seven Republicans. Analysts have estimated that the new map is likely to give Republicans a 10-4 advantage.

Both lawsuits targeted for possible consolidation sit now in North Carolina’s Middle District. A third redistricting lawsuit in the Eastern District would not be affected by state lawmakers’ request.

In that case, Pierce v. NC State Board of Elections, two plaintiffs challenge two new state Senate districts in northeastern North Carolina. The plaintiffs have tried since late November to secure a federal injunction blocking state election officials from using those districts in this year’s elections.

US District Judge James Dever held a Jan. 10 hearing in that case. GOP lawmakers filed the latest document in that case Monday. Dever has not indicated when he would issue a decision about an injunction.

State election officials started mailing absentee ballots on Jan. 19 for the primary election. Early voting is scheduled to start on Feb. 15.