NC Gerrymandering Trial Begins, Could Have Major Implications For 2020 And Beyond

July 16, 2019by Will Doran

RALEIGH, N.C. — The lines used to elect members of the North Carolina General Assembly are unconstitutional and should be redrawn before the 2020 elections, an attorney for activists and politicians argued in court Monday.

In 2018, Democratic candidates won more than 50% of the votes statewide for seats in the legislature, said Stanton Jones, who represents the groups and voters challenging the lines. But Republicans still won most of the seats in both the N.C. House and N.C. Senate.

“The simple truth is this: Because of the extreme gerrymandering, Democrats cannot win a majority,” Jones said. “ … These plans are impervious to the will of the voters.”

But Phil Strach, an attorney for the legislature’s Republican leadership, said his side will present evidence that Democrats could have won a majority or even a supermajority in 2018. He said Democrats simply have problems recruiting quality candidates, and want a court to help them over that hurdle under the guise of this lawsuit.

He also said that since the North Carolina constitution specifically gives redistricting power to the legislature, it shouldn’t even be up to a court to step in and dictate how redistricting should or shouldn’t work.

“What the plaintiffs here really want is for this court to undemocratically change the redistricting process and remove it from the legislature,” Strach said.

It was the first day of what’s expected to be a lengthy trial debating the merits of lines approved by the Republican-led legislature in 2017, to replace a previous set of lines from 2011 that had been ruled unconstitutional due to racial gerrymandering.

The arguments in this case, however, are likely to focus less on racial disenfranchisement and more on purely political disenfranchisement.

A separate lawsuit recently challenged North Carolina’s districts for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Republican lawmakers won that case last month, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the lines could stay in place. But this case is in state court and challenging only the state legislative lines, so its outcome will not necessarily be dictated by that recent Supreme Court ruling.

The challengers include the state Democratic Party and watchdog group Common Cause. Jones said the lack of action by the Supreme Court makes it even more important that the state courts step in, citing the well-known Supreme Court ruling that states are the laboratories of democracy.

And especially in North Carolina, where the governor is legally forbidden from vetoing redistricting plans, Jones said, “only the courts can end this cycle and ensure free and fair elections in 2020.”

The focus on 2020 is important not just for that year’s elections, but potentially for a decade afterward. Under current state law, whichever party controls the legislature after the 2020 elections will be in charge of redistricting for the next decade, using new data from the 2020 Census.

A key point in this case had been whether evidence would be allowed from the formerly secret files of Republican redistricting expert Tom Hofeller, who drew the lines used in North Carolina and other Republican-held states. Hofeller’s files also showed he was involved in the Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the Census, according to court filings in other cases, which claim Hofeller saw that as an opportunity to help with pro-Republican gerrymandering across the country.

In this case, legislative leaders had fought to keep Hofeller’s files out of court. The challengers have claimed the files will show Hofeller broke the rules when drawing these maps, including by secretly using racial data.

Jones, the Common Cause attorney, said his side plans to present numerous pieces of evidence at trial. He said, “if there were any lingering doubt, we will present direct evidence from Dr Hofeller’s own files … that partisan gain was his singular objective.”

But Strach, the Republican lawmakers’ attorney, downplayed the importance of anything from those files. He said that Hofeller is simply being used as a bogeyman, since he died in 2018 and can’t be here to testify on his own behalf. Strach also previously argued, in efforts to keep Hofeller’s files out of this case, that anything found on Hofeller’s personal computers regarding the North Carolina maps had been done simply as a hobby, and not as an official act for the legislature.

“Anytime you hear the name Hofeller, know that it is a sideshow by plaintiffs attempting to distract from the weakness of their case,” Strach said.

———

©2019 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Visit The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) at www.newsobserver.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

State News

North Carolina Governor Vetoes Bill Compelling Sheriffs To Cooperate With ICE State News
North Carolina Governor Vetoes Bill Compelling Sheriffs To Cooperate With ICE
August 21, 2019
by Dan McCue

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have required the state's sheriffs to honor detention requests from federal immigration standards. The veto came a day after the Republican-controlled North Carolina House voted along party lines to approve the measure mandating cooperation with... Read More

Maryland Marijuana Case Sets Standard For Police Searches Of Crime Suspects State News
Maryland Marijuana Case Sets Standard For Police Searches Of Crime Suspects
August 21, 2019
by Tom Ramstack

A ruling last week by Maryland’s highest court is likely to help redefine the criminal law of marijuana possession as states nationwide search for new legal standards. A unanimous Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that police who smell marijuana can use the odor to justify a... Read More

Kentucky Supreme Court To Decide Suit Over Shop’s Refusal To Make Gay Pride T-Shirts State News
Kentucky Supreme Court To Decide Suit Over Shop’s Refusal To Make Gay Pride T-Shirts

LEXINGTON, Ky.—More than seven years after a Lexington shop refused to make T-shirts for the 2012 Lexington Pride Festival, the Kentucky Supreme Court will hear arguments Friday about whether or not the company violated the city’s Fairness Ordinance. Before the case began moving through the court... Read More

Georgia Supreme Court: Are Data Breach Victims Entitled To Damages? Litigation
Georgia Supreme Court: Are Data Breach Victims Entitled To Damages?

ATLANTA — In the spring of 2016, a cyber thief calling himself the “Dark Overlord” hacked into the databases of a Clarke County medical clinic and emerged with the personal information of an estimated 200,000 patients. The Athens Orthopedic Clinic refused to pay the hacker’s ransom... Read More

New York, Connecticut and Vermont Sue Trump Administration Over Public Charge Rule Immigration
New York, Connecticut and Vermont Sue Trump Administration Over Public Charge Rule
August 20, 2019
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON — New York State, Connecticut, Vermont and the City of New York sued the Trump administration Tuesday over its new Public Charge Rule, which aims to deny green cards and visas to immigrants that use or have used government assistance programs. “Generations of citizens landed... Read More

Inmate Killed Herself One Day Before Parole Hearing. Now California Will Pay $1.5 Million Criminal Justice
Inmate Killed Herself One Day Before Parole Hearing. Now California Will Pay $1.5 Million

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Erika Rocha was 15 when she was accused of shooting the operator of a Southern California group home in February 1996. She was charged with attempted murder and set to be tried as an adult when she pleaded guilty and began serving a... Read More

Straight From The Well
scroll top