Lawyers: 12 N Carolina legislative districts remain illegal

Published 11:18 pm Sunday, September 17, 2017

RALEIGH — Illegal and unconstitutional boundaries remain within North Carolina’s new state legislative districts, lawyers who sued successfully over the old maps told federal judges Friday while asking for another redraw.

In a court filing, the lawyers for voters found fault with 12 General Assembly House and Senate districts in the maps approved by legislative Republicans two weeks ago. The judges should redraw the boundaries in the areas where the districts are located using alternatives the plaintiffs offered to legislators last month, or send the job to a third-party expert, the filing says.

“What we filed today is no different from what we told the General Assembly before they passed these new districts,” Anita Earls, one of the voters’ attorneys from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said in a news release. “It is now the court’s responsibility to fix the problem.”

GOP legislators argue they cured the problems the judges previously found with the 2011 maps which, like the new maps, favor Republicans. The 2011 maps helped the GOP expand its majorities, leading to passage of a conservative agenda in state government.

The judges also could sign off on all of the district boundaries for use in the 2018 elections. Attorneys for state legislative leaders have another week to rebut Friday’s objections. It’s unclear when the judges will rule.

The same judges last year threw out 19 House and nine Senate districts as illegal gerrymanders because GOP leaders failed to justify using race as the predominant factor in drawing them. Following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June affirming their decision, the lower-court judges ordered new maps be approved by Sept. 1.

The number of districts in which blacks represent more than 50 percent of voters fell markedly compared to the original maps. But in Friday’s objections, Earls and colleague Eddie Speas contended the boundaries still contain four districts that illegally separate black and white voters, while boundaries for eight other districts also violate the state Constitution.

Of the four where racial bias is still being alleged, only two have majority-black populations, a House district and Senate district in Guilford County. The other two — a Senate district in Hoke and Cumberland counties and House district in Sampson and Wayne counties — remain irregularly shaped and continue to be packed with black voters, Friday’s filing says.

Republican redistricting leaders specifically approved rules that left out the use of the racial data of the electorate when fashioning the new boundaries. But in Friday’s objections, the voters’ lawyers said the GOP’s outside mapmaker was the same person who drew the 2011 maps and would know that drawing certain boundaries the same way as before would produce the same result.

“Claiming to be colorblind by not looking at race data is no proof that race did not predominate in the drawing of a legislative district,” Speas and Earls wrote.

The lawyers also objected to five House districts — four in and around Raleigh and one in south Charlotte — they said weren’t required to be redrawn because they failed to touch any of the 28 districts originally struck down. That violates the state Constitution’s prohibition on mid-decade redistricting, they wrote.

Friday’s filing also says three other districts — a Senate district in Mecklenburg County, a House district in Cabarrus and Rowan counties, and a House district in Johnston, Wayne and Greene counties — violated a state constitutional directive designed to minimize district boundaries crossing county lines.