RALEIGH — State Sen. Bob Rucho said a sweeping decision by a three-judge Superior Court panel handed him and state Rep. David Lewis “a complete and utter vindication” against accusations of racism and unconstitutional gerrymandering in a lawsuit over redrawn state voting maps.

“It wasn’t even a split decision. It was a unanimous decision,” the Mecklenburg County Republican said of Monday’s ruling.

Lawyers and others familiar with court rulings told Carolina Journal the 171-page decision by a special panel of Superior Court judges was unusual in its level of detail.

“I mean they went into every aspect of the case, explained the law, explained why [the lawsuit] could not be supported, and why it could not stand, and why it had to be a summary judgment for us on every count,” Rucho said of the decision that keeps voting lines favoring Republican candidates intact.

The significance of the Superior Court panel’s makeup was not lost on Rucho. He noted that two of the three judges were Democrats — Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway and Halifax County Senior Resident Judge Alma Hinton — and Hinton, whose profile picture on Facebook is a photograph of her with President Obama, is a black woman.

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Joseph Crosswhite of Statesville, a Republican, was the third member of the special judicial panel.

In their decision (PDF) the judges wrote, “It is the ultimate holding of this trial court that the redistricting plans enacted by the General Assembly in 2011 must be upheld and that the Enacted Plans do not impair the constitutional rights of the citizens of North Carolina as those rights are defined by law.”

Further, the judges found, “Political losses and partisan disadvantage are not the proper subject for judicial review, and those whose power or influence is stripped away by shifting political winds cannot seek a remedy from courts of law, but they must find relief from courts of public opinion in future elections.”

Rucho also noted that the Obama administration’s Justice Department gave pre-clearance to the plan in November 2011 over protests by civil rights groups, individual Democratic Party voters, and election reform advocates who complained that the new voting maps were gerrymandered by race.

“That’s why I felt the case probably should not have moved forward” in the courts, he said. “We didn’t get it thrown back at us to redraw the maps so I was very confident after that that we would win this case.”

“There were a lot of comments about using race exclusively and the like” in redrawing political boundaries, Rucho said of attacks by the NAACP and Democrats.

“I have to tell you, there was a lot of ugliness that was said, and unfortunately those comments were printed in the newspaper as if they were true,” he said. “This [ruling] is a complete vindication” for him and Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, chairmen of their respective chambers’ redistricting committees.

State Democratic Party officials and lawyers handling the plaintiffs’ case did not respond to calls for comment on the decision.

Jane Pinsky, director of the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, said the judges noted in their ruling that political parties that win majorities get the spoils of election victory when it comes to redistricting. But she supports reform.

“Redistricting in North Carolina is and has been for over a hundred years a partisan political process. It has always benefited the party in power, punished the party out of power,” Pinsky said in a news release.

“It makes for a dysfunctional and polarized legislature and disincentives from working across the aisle and in a broad, bipartisan fashion,” she said. The coalition represents more than 50 individuals and groups, including the John Locke Foundation.

“It is time to change the process so that partisan politics no longer play a role in North Carolina’s redistricting,” Pinsky said. She urged voters and legislative leaders to support House Bill 606, which sets up a nonpartisan process for redistricting through the Legislative Services Office. The bill sits in the House Committee on Elections.

“The responsibility under the constitution is for the legislature to draw those maps. For us to relinquish or abdicate the responsibility to draw up those future redistricting maps I think would be totally in error,” Rucho said.

“Unfortunately, the people that are the biggest advocates of an independent or nonpartisan redistricting committees are the ones we never heard a peep from when the Democrats were drawing the maps,” he said.

“I’m kind of skeptical … that commissions are the great panacea that everybody thinks they are,” said one official involved in the North Carolina case.

Maryland uses an advisory commission appointed by the governor to help define voting districts, he said, and Maryland’s wildly drawn voting maps “make North Carolina’s maps look tame.”

Arizona and California have redistricting commissions that exclude elected officials, he said, yet “the Democrats were pretty adamant about the fact that they were able to subvert both of those commissions.”

Rucho said Republicans “spent a lot of time” studying the decision in the state Supreme Court case Stephenson v. Bartlett in making certain they were complying with the state and U.S. constitutions and redistricting statutes in determining how to redraw the voting maps.

“You just follow the Stephenson decision, beginning with the Voting Rights Act, the whole-county division, making sure one person, one vote,” Rucho said.

“It’s a cookbook,” he said. “There is no other way of drawing the maps. Had the Democrats done what we did in following the law, they would have come out with the same [boundaries] primarily because of the fact that you just step by step it and that kind of delivers the maps that you need to have.”

“We’re very pleased by the court’s ruling and we hope that the plaintiffs will decide not to appeal,” said Tom Farr, a Raleigh attorney with the Ogletree Deakins law firm who acted as counsel for Rucho and Lewis during the redistricting process and served as one of the state’s defense attorneys during the lawsuit.

“They’ve got 30 days to appeal to the [state] Supreme Court,” Rucho said of the plaintiffs. Given the overwhelming court victory, “I would hope that the plaintiffs and the attorneys for the NAACP and the Democrat Party recognize that fact.”

Lawmakers “have a lot of other things we need to do instead of being involved with more redistricting lawsuits,” Rucho said, “issues like balanced budgets and tax reform.”

Should the plaintiffs appeal, Rucho foresees no impact on the 2014 elections.

“It is way too late to even consider redrawing maps for the next election,” he said.

As it stands, Rucho is uncertain how much the redistricting has cost taxpayers. He said it could be as much as $2 million from the time preliminary work began to establish criteria, to drawing up maps, giving the Legislative Black Caucus an opportunity to draw alternative maps, getting Justice Department pre-clearance, then defending against the lawsuit.

Dan E. Way (@danway_carolina) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.