Three-judge panel named to address federal suit against NC congressional map

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  • A panel of three federal judges, all appointed by Republican presidents, will consider a lawsuit filed against North Carolina's congressional election map.
  • District Judge Thomas Schroeder requested the appointment of two additional judges to deal with the constitutional challenger against the map. Appeals Court Judge Allison Jones Rushing and District Judge Richard Myers will join Schroeder.
  • The suit targets the new 1st, 6th, 12th, and 14th Congressional Districts as “unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.”

Three federal judges, all appointed by Republican presidents, will hear a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s congressional election map. Appeals Court Judge Allison Jones Rushing and District Judge Richard Myers will join Judge Thomas Schroeder to consider the suit.

Chief Judge Albert Diaz of the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals appointed Rushing and Myers to the case on Thursday. Schroeder had requested the three-judge panel, according to an order posted Friday.

Schroeder has served as a judge in North Carolina’s Middle District since 2008. President George W. Bush appointed him to that role. President Donald Trump appointed Rushing to the 4th Circuit and Myers to North Carolina’s Eastern District.

President Barack Obama appointed Diaz to the 4th Circuit in 2010. He became chief judge in July.

Eighteen black and Latino plaintiffs working with Democratic lawyer Marc Elias’ law firm have filed a federal lawsuit on Dec. 4 to block North Carolina’s new congressional map. They took their case to court on the same afternoon that candidate filing began for the state’s 2024 elections. Candidate filings ends Friday.

The suit, titled Williams v. Hall, specifically targets the new 1st, 6th, 12th, and 14th Congressional Districts as “unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.”

Plaintiffs ask a federal court to declare that the congressional map “discriminates against minority voters in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.” They seek an injunction blocking enforcement of the congressional map. They ask the court to “[h]old hearings, consider briefing and evidence, and otherwise take actions” that would lead to a “valid” congressional plan.

“Plaintiffs bring this action to challenge North Carolina’s 2023 Congressional Plan, which was enacted as Senate Bill 757 on October 25, 2023, and represents the third time in as many years that the North Carolina General Assembly has drawn congressional districts that disadvantage minority voters,” according to the complaint filed Monday in US District Court.

“North Carolina gained a congressional district after the 2020 Census, almost entirely due to an increase in the state’s minority population,” the complaint argued. “But instead of granting minority voters the benefit of the state’s increased representation, the General Assembly majority capitalized on that gain to increase their own power and decrease minority voting power.”

“By strategically packing and cracking North Carolina’s minority voters, the 2023 Congressional Plan entrenches the state’s white majority and erases the gains made by voters of color in the 2020 and 2022 election cycles,” the lawsuit continued.

“The 2023 Congressional Plan is just the most recent enactment in North Carolina’s long history of discriminatory voting laws and redistricting plans,” plaintiffs argued. “North Carolina’s minority populations have long suffered from voting discrimination and vote dilution and as a result have endured persistent disparities in political representation.”

The suit names Rep. Destin Hall, R-Caldwell, as lead defendant. Hall chairs the state House’s redistricting committee. Plaintiffs also name as co-defendants the three state Senate redistricting chairmen, the top officers in the state House and Senate, and the State Board of Elections and its individual members.

Plaintiffs sought a hearing before a three-judge panel “as this action challenges ‘the constitutionality of the apportionment of congressional districts.’”

The suit argues “due to the General Assembly majority’s unflinching commitment to entrenching their party’s political power at the expense of voters of color, North Carolina’s congressional map has been redrawn no fewer than four times in the past three years.”

The map used in 2022, drawn by experts working with court-appointed “special masters,” produced a US House delegation with seven Democrats and seven Republicans. Analysts have estimated that the new map is likely to give Republicans a 10-4 advantage.

“The General Assembly waited nearly five months to take up the task of redistricting again” after a state Supreme Court ruling threw out the 2022 map. The suit does not explain why plaintiffs waited more than a month after the approval of that new map to file their legal challenge.

The suit notes that the “combined Black and Latino voting age population” in the 1st Congressional District dipped from 44.8% to 44.6% in the new congressional map. “Although the overall change in minority population is small, CD-1 subordinates traditional districting principles in order to move minority communities in and out of the district
with the effect of weakening an existing minority opportunity district,” according to the suit.

In the 6th District, the “CVAP” figure for Blacks and Latinos dropped from 35.6% to 23.5%, according to the lawsuit. “The 2023 Congressional Plan’s redistribution of minority residents across multiple districts comes at the expense of traditional districting principles, including respect for communities of interest, political subdivision and geographical boundaries, and compactness.”

“The reduction in Black and Latino CVAP in CD-6 was accomplished primarily by carving up Guilford County, which was entirely contained within a single congressional district under the 2019 and 2022 Congressional Plans, into three separate congressional districts under the
2023 Congressional Plan,” according to the complaint. “Guilford County’s population remains small enough to be contained within a single congressional district.”

Plaintiffs target the 12th and 14th Congressional districts in tandem. “These two districts were redrawn in the 2023 Congressional Plan to move reasonably compact minority communities in Mecklenburg County out of CD-14 and into CD-12,” according to the lawsuit. “The result of this shift is to eliminate a minority-opportunity district in CD-14.”

“CDs 1, 6, 12, and 14 in the 2023 Congressional Plan violate Plaintiffs’ rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” critics argued.

“The 2023 Congressional Plan will have a discriminatory impact on minority North
Carolinians — a fact that was foreseeable when Defendants drafted and passed the Plan,” according to the complaint. “Elected officials in North Carolina have limited minority voters’ ability to elect or even influence elections through the purposeful cracking and packing of minority voters.

“In particular, the 2023 Congressional Plan intentionally dismantles CD-6 and CD-14, which were effective crossover districts under the previous plan, and weakens CD-1, which was a historically performing minority opportunity district,” the suit continued.

House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, a named defendant, is running for Congress in the challenged 14th District. “It has taken Democratic activists over a month after these maps were approved by the General Assembly to concoct these baseless allegations,” Moore said in a prepared statement. “This is a desperate attempt to throw chaos into North Carolina’s elections, on the first day of candidate filing no less. We are fully confident that these maps are going to be used in this election and every election this decade.”