News: Quick Takes

Press release signals GOP arguments in gerrymandering trial

Wesley Pegden, Carnegie Mellon math professor, testifies July 22, 2019, during the Common Cause v. Lewis partisan gerrymandering trial. (WRAL.com screen shot)
Wesley Pegden, Carnegie Mellon math professor, testifies July 22, 2019, during the Common Cause v. Lewis partisan gerrymandering trial. (WRAL.com screen shot)

Before mounting a defense in the Common Cause v. Lewis partisan gerrymandering trial, one lawmaker has issued a news release hinting at arguments he and fellow defendants are likely to make.

“Dem ‘Expert’ Reports Are Sociological Gobbledygook,” reads the headline of the release from Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell. Hise co-chairs the state Senate’s redistricting committee. He is a named defendant in the case.

Hise takes aim at expert witnesses plaintiffs have put forward during more than one week of trial action before a three-judge Superior Court panel in Raleigh.

“For most of the last week of North Carolina’s redistricting lawsuit, lawyers for the Democratic Party and Common Cause have bored the court with ‘expert’ testimony comprised of what U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has called ‘sociological gobbledygook.'” according to the Hise release.

Roberts recently wrote the majority opinion in the federal Rucho v. Common Cause case. In that opinion, the Supreme Court upheld a disputed N.C. congressional election map. The high court also washed its hands of any future cases involving partisan gerrymandering.

After citing Roberts, Hise’s news release lists five specific flaws in the plaintiffs’ expert testimony.

First, “Plaintiffs’ experts cherry-picked election data to rig their results,” according to Hise’s release. Relying on analysis from a Republican-hired “statistics expert,” Janet Thornton, Hise takes special note of Democrats’ decision to omit analysis of the 2016 race for N.C. insurance commissioner.

Omitting that race, in which Republican Mike Causey unseated Democratic incumbent Wayne Goodwin, leads to an overinflated assessment of Democrats’ statewide electoral performance in 2016, according to Hise’s release.

Second, Hise cites actions and statements from a colleague, Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake. Blue leads Senate Democrats.

As the Senate drew one of the maps on trial in Common Cause v. Lewis, Blue recommended Wake County district line changes accepted by the Republican Senate majority. “Blue testified that his districts ‘cure the foundation on which one would probably bring a political gerrymander claim,'” according to Hise’s release.

Despite the testimony, plaintiffs still argue that those Wake districts are examples of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering. One of the plaintiffs’ experts changed Blue’s lines while offering examples of how to “fix” the gerrymandering.

“Some of them even put Senator Blue in a Republican-dominated district — an outcome no legislature would ever support,” according to Hise’s release. “Why? Because actions by legislators are the product of compromise and conversation, not some computer algorithm.”

Third, “plaintiffs’ experts built their simulations using the wrong criteria,” according to Hise. None of the plaintiffs’ experts developed alternative maps that used the same criteria lawmakers used to draw the 2017 maps on trial.

Fourth, Hise argues that none of the simulated maps developed by the plaintiffs’ experts would result in a “statistically significant difference” in the number of Democrats elected to the legislature. Fifth, the plaintiffs’ lawyers told at least two of their experts which districts to analyze and which districts to ignore when conducting their analysis.

At press time, plaintiffs still were presenting their case. It challenges state House and Senate election maps as examples of overly partisan gerrymandering. Legislative defendants are expected to make their counterargument as the trial continues this week.