News: Quick Takes

Congressional redistricting group to meet Tuesday

An 18-member legislative committee will start work Tuesday, Nov. 5, on a new N.C. congressional map for the 2020 election. A court called for the new map one week ago.

The interim Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting meets at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh. Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, and Reps. David Lewis, R-Harnett, and Destin Hall, R-Caldwell, will co-chair the group. It comprises eight senators (five Republicans and three Democrats) and 10 representatives (six Republicans and four Democrats).

“There has been substantial interest in where congressional redistricting stands right now and what we expect to happen in the coming weeks,” Hise said in a prepared statement. “The short and honest answer right now is ‘I don’t know.’

“We are currently under a state court’s ‘wink-and-nod’ quasi-order that says they haven’t gone through enough process yet to determine that the current congressional maps violate the North Carolina Constitution, but they ‘urge’ us to go ahead and create new maps,” Hise added.

A three-judge Superior Court panel granted plaintiffs in the Harper v. Lewis case a preliminary injunction blocking the state from using the current congressional map for next year’s election. The court has not conducted a full trial in the case.

“At the same time, a well-respected former justice of the N.C. Supreme Court filed a federal lawsuit last week arguing that the state court’s wink-and-nod quasi-order would actually violate the U.S. Constitutional rights of North Carolinians,” Hise said.

“Frankly, I’m waiting on a judge somewhere to tell me which version of which Constitution to follow. I know what I think the law is, but sometimes that doesn’t have any bearing on what a judge might order,” he added.

“We’re going to move forward and begin the redistricting process because the filing period starts in less than one month, whether under the current map or a new one,” he said. “We intend to keep the state on schedule and not cram the election process.

“But we’re in a difficult place with no clear direction on which way to go,” the statement concludes.

The court ruling on congressional redistricting arrived on the same day that the three-judge panel ruled in a separate case involving state legislative election maps. In that case, judges ruled that the legislature had complied with an earlier court order to redraw state House and Senate election districts for 2020. The earlier court order had struck down prior legislative maps as examples of “extreme” partisan gerrymandering.

Plaintiffs in the legislative redistricting case, including the state Democratic Party and left-of-center advocacy group Common Cause, have appealed the three-judge panel’s ruling. The challengers argue that the latest legislative maps still include examples of unconstitutional partisan bias favoring Republicans.

Filing for legislative, congressional, and other 2020 N.C. elections is scheduled to begin Dec. 2. The three-judge panel had indicated in the legislative case that it reserved the right to amend that schedule, along with the planned March 2020 primary election. While not issuing the same warning in the congressional case, judges urged quick action from the General Assembly on redrawing a congressional map to comply with the current election timetable.