News: Quick Takes

Three-judge panel vows quick ruling in latest NCGA redistricting suit

Opinion won't take effect until 2020 election cycle

From left, Superior Court Judges Alma Hinton, Paul Ridgeway, and Joseph Crosswhite, hear arguments in Common Cause v. Lewis. (CJ file photo)
From left, Superior Court Judges Alma Hinton, Paul Ridgeway, and Joseph Crosswhite, hear arguments in Common Cause v. Lewis. (CJ file photo)

A three-member panel of Superior Court judges didn’t issue a decision after hearing testimony Friday in a state legislative redistricting challenge. But the judges won’t wait long.

Wake County Judge Paul Ridgeway said the panel would review arguments and documents from opposing lawyers. He said the opinion would be released as quickly as possible.

The other judges on the panel are Alma Hinton (Halifax County) and Joseph Crosswhite  (Alexander and Iredell).

The plaintiffs want to be declared winners without a trial, and bar the state from using the new maps in the four Wake County districts. Legislative defendants say the panel should accept the General Assembly’s most recent redrawn maps in Wake County as consistent with state law.

The decision would apply to primary and general election districts in the 2020 election cycle.

Plaintiffs included the N.C. NAACP, League of Women Voters of North Carolina, Democracy North Carolina, and the AFL-CIO-related North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute.

They’re challenging Wake County legislative districts 36, 37, 40, and 41, saying the districts violate a constitutional ban on mid-decade redistricting. The General Assembly redrew the districts last year after a court order.

Defendants are House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland; Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham; and state Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, and Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, the chambers’ redistricting chairmen. The Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement also is a defendant.

The case arises from the Covington v. North Carolina federal redistricting lawsuit. A three-judge panel ruled legislative redistricting maps were unconstitutional because they relied too heavily on race-based methodologies. Last year the court rejected the state’s revised legislative lines, and ordered a special master to create a map for them.

The U.S. Supreme Court later accepted the special master’s map. The legislature offered its maps instead.

Wake County House Districts 33 and 38 were found unconstitutional. Lawmakers changed them, and several adjoining districts, to deal with the makeup of Districts 36, 37, 40, and 41.

The suit claims the changes violate state law barring mid-decade changes to legislative districts unless they’re done under court order. The General Assembly must rely on the once-a-decade census results to draw districts.

Legislative attorney Phil Strach said the plaintiffs were asking the state judges to adopt districts which the U.S. Supreme Court already had ruled unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.