State lawmakers defending their latest election maps are urging a three-judge panel to avoid conducting a “beauty contest” over competing plans. That language appears in a document filed Monday in the legal case over N.C. congressional and legislative maps.
The panel of Superior Court judges must decide by noon Wednesday whether to uphold redrawn maps from the Republican-led General Assembly or substitute their own maps for the 2022 election. That timeline came from the N.C. Supreme Court, which threw out the General Assembly’s original maps.
“[T]he Court should decline the Plaintiffs’ invitation to judge a redistricting beauty contest, and order the General Assembly’s Remedial maps, which are clearly presumptively constitutional under the North Carolina Supreme Court’s February 14, 2022, order for use in the upcoming 2022 elections,” wrote attorney Phillip Strach on behalf of legislative defendants in the case.
In addition to the legislature’s maps, the panel also may consider proposals from three different sets of plaintiffs in the case. The so-called Harper plaintiffs, named for lead plaintiff Rebecca Harper in a case dubbed Harper v. Hall, have submitted alternative plans for North Carolina’s 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and its 50-seat state Senate. Those plaintiffs did not submit a plan for 120 N.C. House seats. The General Assembly secured bipartisan support for its latest N.C. House plan.
The N.C. League of Conversations, as a second plaintiff, submitted alternatives for all three legislative plans. Common Cause, a third plaintiff, did not submit full maps. It called for the redrawing of one state House district and one state Senate district.
“Plaintiffs’ proposed Remedial Plans do nothing but prove that the remedial plans enacted by the General Assembly are constitutional,” Strach wrote.
“When a legislature timely enacts remedial districting plans, a reviewing court’s analysis is limited to whether the legislative plans are constitutional — courts must ‘impose remedial actions as narrowly as possible,’” he added. “As such, the issue in assessing the General Assembly’s remedial plans here is not who has produced the ‘best’ or ‘most constitutional’ maps.”
“[T]he function of this court is only to determine whether the proposed remedial plans satisfy the metrics established by the North Carolina Supreme Court,” Strach wrote. “Whether any plans offered by Plaintiffs are ‘better’ or ‘more constitutional’ is irrelevant. The only relevant issue is whether the legislatively enacted maps are constitutional.”
Despite the emphasis on the legislature’s plans, Strach’s brief goes on to point out problems with each of the plaintiffs’ proposed substitutes. The plaintiffs failed to provide court-ordered data supporting their plans, Strach explained.
Map critics also failed to use the same set of election data that the three-judge panel had used to find evidence of intentional, pro-Republican redistricting, he wrote. It was that evidence that formed the basis of the state Supreme Court ruling that rejected the original maps.
“If one set of elections was an appropriate choice to prove the existence of districts that were the product of ‘pro-Republican redistricting’ then why are they not an equally appropriate choice to test whether the districts now meet the mathematical tests laid out in theNorth Carolina Supreme Court’s opinion?” Strach asked. “As shown by all experts at trial, the choice of elections used to measure these tests can lead to varying results.”
“This is why it is most prudent for the Court to analyze all plans under the set it already found persuasive,” he added. “But Harper Plaintiffs, having chosen a curated set of elections to attempt to prove the existence of partisan gerrymandering, now want their own plans scored under a different set of elections. This has the appearance of gaming the choice of elections, to make their scores seem better or the General Assembly’s scores seem worse. In advocating for the use of a new set of elections, Harper Plaintiffs invite this Court to embrace partisan gamesmanship — an invitation this Court should decline.”
The legislative defendants’ brief dissects other problems with the proposed alternative maps. It labels some of the proposals “illegal racial gerrymanders.” Legislative defendants also skewer alternative congressional maps.
“The NCLCV plan is even more egregious,” Strach wrote. “The NCLCV plan creates 8 seats won by President Biden in a state where President Biden lost to former President Trump. It clearly fails the partisan metrics set by the North Carolina Supreme Court to skew the map in favor of North Carolina Democrats, and creates simply bizarre seats that no legislature would enact, such as splitting up Northeastern North Carolina and creating a Johnston County to Durham seat.”
“But regardless, redistricting is not a beauty pageant,” Strach added. “Nothing requires the Court to pick the most beautiful or ‘perfect’ plan. Rather, the question is quite the opposite — whether the General Assembly Remedial Congressional Plan is constitutional. And it clearly is. In fact, comparing these three plans highlight that none is clearly the ‘most beautiful’ and that each have [sic] better or worse points compared to the others.”
“Put another way, how can the Court strike down the General Assembly Remedial Congressional Plan and replace it with a Harper plan that splits an identical number of counties? Such an action would make a mockery of the State’s constitution.”
Once the three-judge panel issues a ruling in the case, any appeals must head to the N.C. Supreme Court by 5 p.m. Wednesday.