Judges want names of potential outside election mapmakers

A three-judge panel overseeing the federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s legislative election maps wants names of at least three people who could draw new sets of maps.

The panel made no decision after a hearing today about whether to order new maps. But the judges have ordered names of people who could be considered for the job of “special master.”  The judges could appoint the special master to draw news maps in case the judges end up throwing out the latest maps drawn by the N.C. General Assembly.

“In order to avoid delay should the Court decide that some or all of plaintiffs’ objections should be sustained, the parties are directed to confer and to submit the names of at least three persons the parties agree are qualified to serve as a special master,” the single-paragraph order reads.

“The names shall be listed in alphabetical order with no indication of the preferences of the parties as between the three suggestions,” the order continues. “The list shall be filed no later than October 18, 2017. The parties are not otherwise authorized to file any submissions as to an appropriate special master. If the parties are unable to agree, and should appointment of a special master be necessary or advisable, the Court may select the master without input from the parties.”

The latest order in the case of Covington v. North Carolina follows a day in which lawyers argued about whether the latest election maps drawn by the N.C. General Assembly comply with earlier court orders.

The three-member panel of U.S. Appeals Court Judge James Wynn and District Court Judges Catherine Eagles and Thomas Schroeder threw out election maps last year that had been used for N.C. House and Senate elections in 2012 and 2014. The judges ruled that 28 of the 170 legislative districts in those maps were illegal because of racial gerrymandering.

Because of an appeal from the General Assembly, voters saw the same districts in the 2016 elections. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the three-judge panel’s ruling without comment earlier this year.

Challengers of new maps finalized in August contend that some of the new districts still constitute cases of racial gerrymandering. They also argue that other new districts violate a state constitutional restriction against drawing new districts outside of the process required every 10 years to address new census data.

“A ‘special master’ is appointed by a court to carry out some sort of action on its behalf,” according to the Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute.

“Activities carried out by special masters are as diverse as the actions taken by courts,” according to the institute. “They are often appointed as facilitators in child custody cases, for example, but the term ‘special master’ was also used to describe the person appointed by Congress to administer compensation for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. The term often appears in original jurisdiction cases decided by the Supreme Court ; these are often cases involving boundary disputes between the states, with a special master appointed to resolve questions of geography or historical claims.”

The three-judge panel has not indicated when it will issue its latest ruling in the case.