News: Quick Takes

Unanimous three-judge panel throws out N.C. House, Senate districts

A three-judge N.C. Superior Court panel has tossed out North Carolina’s election maps for state House and Senate districts. The court has ordered state lawmakers to draw new maps in two weeks.

The state Senate’s top leader responded by saying legislators “intend to respect the court’s decision and finally put this divisive battle behind us.”

The 357-page ruling handed down Tuesday, Sept. 3, labels the current maps unconstitutional. Judges Paul Ridgeway, Joseph Crosswhite, and Alma Hinton agreed the maps violated the N.C. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, Free Elections Clause, and Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly Clauses.

“[T]he General Assembly, in enacting the 2017 legislative maps, had a partisan intent to create legislative districts that perpetuated a Republican-controlled General Assembly,” the judges ruled. “[T]he General Assembly deployed this intent with surgical precision to carefully craft maps that grouped many voters into districts predominantly based upon partisan criteria by packing and cracking Democratic voters to dilute their collective voting strength, thereby creating partisan gerrymandered legislative maps.”

“[T]he effect of these carefully crafted partisan maps is that, in all but the most unusual election scenarios, the Republican party will control a majority of both chambers of the General Assembly.”

“[T]he 2017 Enacted House and Senate Maps are significantly tainted in that they unconstitutionally deprive every citizen of the right to elections for members of the General Assembly conducted freely and honestly to ascertain, fairly and truthfully, the will of the People,” the court order continues. “The Court bases this on the inescapable conclusion that the 2017 Enacted Maps, as drawn, do not permit voters to freely choose their representative, but rather representatives are choosing voters based upon sophisticated partisan sorting. It is not the free will of the People that is fairly ascertained through extreme partisan gerrymandering. Rather, it is the carefully crafted will of the map drawer that predominates.”

New maps are due to the court by Sept. 18. The court indicated that it will appoint a “referee” to judge those maps. That referee might draw maps for the court if it rejects the General Assembly’s work.

The ruling will affect state House districts in 28 counties and Senate districts in 21 counties. Affected counties are Alamance, Anson, Bladen, Brunswick, Buncombe, Cabarrus, Cleveland, Columbus, Cumberland, Davie, Duplin, Forsyth, Franklin, Gaston, Guilford, Harnett, Henderson, Johnston, Lee, Lenoir, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender, Pitt, Randolph, Richmond, Robeson, Rowan, Sampson, Stanly, Transylvania, Union, Wake, and Yadkin.

Judges are limiting criteria lawmakers can use in drawing the new districts. “Partisan considerations and election results data shall not be used in the drawing of legislative districts in the Remedial Maps,” according to the court order.

Acceptable criteria include standards for equal population, contiguity, and compactness. The districts must comply with previous court standards for county groupings.

Lawmakers can consider municipal boundaries. They can make “reasonable efforts” not to draw incumbents into the same district. They “shall make reasonable efforts” to split fewer precincts than those split in legislative maps used before the current maps.

Judges ordered lawmakers not to use the invalidated districts as a “starting point” for new districts. “[N]o effort may be made to preserve the cores of invalidated 2017 districts.”

Lawmakers cannot hire any outside help for the new election maps without the judges’ permission. Judges have ordered lawmakers to draw new maps “in full public view.” “At a minimum, this requires all map drawing to occur at public hearings, with any relevant computer screen visible to legislators and public observers,” according to the court order. “Legislative Defendants and their agents shall not undertake any steps to draw or revise the new districts outside of public view.”

Judges are not allowing any potential appeal to delay their timeline for legislative action. Officially, the court “denies a stay of the remedial process.” The judges also indicate that they reserve the right to change any 2020 primary election dates, including elections for offices other than state House and Senate.

State Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, responded to the ruling. “This case is the next step in [former U.S. Attorney General] Eric Holder’s drive to use judges to create a Democratic majority,” Berger said in a prepared statement. “Thwarted at the U.S. Supreme Court, Holder has turned to state courts with Democratic majorities to, in his own words, ‘favorably position Democrats’ to game the redistricting process.”

“We disagree with the court’s ruling as it contradicts the Constitution and binding legal precedent, but we intend to respect the court’s decision and finally put this divisive battle behind us,” Berger added. “Nearly a decade of relentless litigation has strained the legitimacy of this state’s institutions, and the relationship between its leaders, to the breaking point. It’s time to move on.”

“To end this matter once and for all, we will follow the court’s instruction and move forward with adoption of a nonpartisan map.”

  • swelly

    This ruling is so effed up! Democrats ruled the GA for the last century. Now that R’s run the show the process for drawing districts is unfair. R’s were elected to the majority in districts drawn by D’s. But R’s aren’t allowed the same courtesy when they are in power. 2 Dem judges and 1 Rep judge think they know what is best. They are wrong!

  • Plantaganetheir

    Nasty, destructive Democrats. They defile everything they touch.

  • Fremont V. Brown III

    All this tells me is these three don’t understand that the legislature has the ONLY state constitutional authority to make law. Judges can only issue opinions and opinons are NOT law.

  • Matt

    Why was it constitutional when the Democrats had the map drawing authority and they insured the maps protected the Democrat incumbent for right at 100 years?

    Gerrymandering of seats to protect the incumbents is nothing new. So why do judges now try to legislate from the bench on this matter?

    We, the People should know that the house and senate are the RESPONSIBLE body to create these maps. Judges are NOT to decide this.

    You want your party to win, put up someone who can win. This is judges abusing their seat.

    O well, just another day in silly land. We have a governor who supports climate change instead of us. He wants open borders. When he was the AG of this state he didn’t see a problem with NOT protecting our state.

    Are these three judges elected or appointed? If they are elected vote the bums out. If they are appointed vote Forest in and let these three bums be the first three thrown out.

    Elections do have consequences. If we wish for NC to become the new NYC where folks like AOC will be running for office, we can let progressives keep destroying this State. We can keep voting people like cooper into office.

    Whats next for NC? Tent cities in our major cities? More men in woman’s and girl’s bathrooms? Where are these judges on these items? O, thats right, they are progressive desires. They won’t legislate from the bench over those items. They help hurt NC Gotcha progressives.

    This is why we have to vote out progressive judges. WE the people, under our constitution said we want the legislators to decide how to make maps and to draw those maps. That is constitutional. That progressives in this state don’t like that does not make the act of how the GA drew the maps unconstitutional, It just means the progressives need to learn to accept their way isn’t always going to be the way.

  • QuitBS

    NC votes to amend the State Constitution to require Voter ID, a Judge over rules Democracy. NC duly elected legislators draw new districts, the Democrat Judges over rule democracy. The Democrats have stated their goal is the Republicans will never win another election, even if the People vote for them. Civil War edges closer!

  • bruce

    Not enough blacks, too many blacks, not enough democrats, too many democrats. What’s next? Too many seniors, not enough seniors, too many millennials, not enough millennials. Why not just rule that any district is illegal unless won by a democrat?

  • Abraham_Franklin

    “They can make “reasonable efforts” not to draw incumbents into the same district. ”

    In other words, gerrymandering is OK if protects The Swamp.