Three GOP-appointed judges to oversee NAACP’s federal redistricting suit

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  • Three federal judges appointed by Republican presidents will oversee the NAACP's lawsuit targeting North Carolina's new congressional and legislative election maps.
  • For the second time in less than three weeks, Chief Judge Albert Diaz of the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals appointed Judges Allison Jones Rushing and Richard Myers to three-judge panels in redistricting cases.
  • Former President Donald Trump appointed Rushing and Myers to their posts. Former President Barack Obama appointed Diaz.

Three federal judges appointed by Republican presidents will oversee the NAACP’s lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s new congressional and legislative election maps. A judge appointed by former Democratic President Barack Obama issued an order Tuesday appointing the three-judge panel.

US District Judge William Osteen, appointed by former President George W. Bush, already had been assigned to the case, North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. Berger. He’ll be joined on the panel by Judge Allison Jones Rushing of the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals and District Judge Richard Myers. Former President Donald Trump appointed both Rushing and Myers to their posts.

Chief Judge Albert Diaz of the 4th Circuit, an Obama appointee, added Rushing and Myers to the case. It’s the second time in less than three weeks that he has named the same two judges to three-judge panels dealing with federal challenges to North Carolina’s election maps. Rushing and Myers will join Judge Thomas Schroeder, another Bush appointee, to oversee a case challenging the state’s new congressional map.

The North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, left-of-center activist group Common Cause, and eight individual plaintiffs want federal courts to block North Carolina’s new maps for US House, state House, and state Senate elections. They argue that the maps are based on unconstitutional racial gerrymandering.

They filed suit on Dec. 19, four days after candidate filing ended under the challenged maps.

“In 2023, the North Carolina General Assembly redrew its state legislative and congressional plans to severely diminish the voting power of North Carolina’s Black voters, who comprise over 22% of residents in the state,” according to the 87-page complaint. “The General Assembly achieved this by intentionally dismantling existing and longstanding Black opportunity districts and diluting Black voting power in North Carolina’s historic Black Belt, which stretches across the northeastern portion of the state, and by selectively targeting Black voters in other areas of the state. The effect of these actions is to inequitably reduce the electoral influence of the Black voters of North Carolina in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the United States Constitution.”

Plaintiffs are working with lawyers from the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice, along with a law firm with offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.

The lawsuit says state legislators adopted their maps for state House, state Senate, and congressional races “using an intentionally rushed and deficient process that denied any opportunity for meaningful engagement and showed clear disregard for the interests, needs, and desires of North Carolina’s Black voters.”

The General Assembly’s redistricting criteria “any formal evaluation or consideration of race despite clear and recent instruction from this country’s highest court” in a case titled Allen v. Milligan. “In Milligan, the Supreme Court confirmed that attention to Black voting power in areas with high Black populations during redistricting is crucial to ensuring compliance with the Voting Rights Act.”

“This is particularly true in areas such as North Carolina’s Black Belt that have, in recent years, included districts that allowed Black voters the opportunity to elect their candidates of choice,” the lawsuit continued. “Because the General Assembly refused to conduct any evaluation of racial demography to ensure legal compliance with the Voting Rights Act and other mandates, the proposed redistricting plans unsurprisingly failed to meet those legal requirements.”

Plaintiffs cite “a predetermined unwillingness to comply with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.” The suit also rejects the notion that Republican legislative leaders acted only from “partisan motivation.”

“[T]he General Assembly targeted predominantly Black voting precincts with surgical precision throughout the state in drawing and enacting the 2023 Plans, at the expense of traditional redistricting criteria, to achieve preferred district lines that diminish Black voters’ ability to elect candidates of their choice at all levels of government,” the suit argued.

The suit specifically targets state Senate Districts 1, 2, 7, and 8; state House Districts 4, 5, 7, 10, 12, 24, 25, and 32; and Congressional Districts 1, 5, 6, 9, and 10.

Plaintiffs urge the court to enjoin state officials from “calling, holding, supervising, or certifying any elections” under the challenged maps. The suit also calls for a remedial process that would produce new maps “in time for use no later than the 2026 general election and beyond.”

This is one of three active federal lawsuits targeting North Carolina’s new statewide election maps.