Court Panel Rules North Carolina Political Maps are Good to Go
RALEIGH, N.C. — A three-judge state superior court panel ruled Tuesday that new congressional and state legislative maps drawn by Republican lawmakers do not violate the state constitution and therefore can be used in upcoming elections.
The panel, which included two Republicans, Wake County Judge Graham Shirley and Catawba County Judge Nathaniel Poovey, and one Democrat, Anson County Judge Dawn Layton, acknowledged that the new maps give Republicans an advantage in future elections.
But they went on to say that in redistricting, “political considerations” are simply part of the process and do not impinge on the right to vote.
The 260-page ruling upheld both a new congressional map that appears destined to give Republicans a 10-4 advantage in regard to North Carolina’s 14 seats in the U.S. House and the maps for state legislature that critics have argued will produce strong Republican majorities even in years when Democrats win the majority of the vote.
Attorney Marc Elias, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case, said he will appeal the ruling to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
“The fight for fair districts continues,” he said in a tweet moments after the ruling was handed down.
Hilary Harris Klein, senior counsel for voting rights for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, also believes the state Supreme Court will ultimately decide the case.
As attorney for some of the plaintiffs challenging the map, Klein said she was obviously disappointed in the ruling, but she added, “We remain confident that our conclusive evidence of partisan bias, obfuscation, and attacks on Black representation, from expert testimony to the mapmakers’ own admissions, will convince the state’s highest court to protect voters from nefarious efforts to entrench partisan power at the expense of free elections and fair representation.”
Throughout the ruling, the judges expressed a certain amount of discomfort with having to deal with the issue at all.
“Despite our disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule, this court must remind itself that these maps are the result of a democratic process,” they wrote in one telling passage.
“Judges, just like many of the citizens they serve, do not always like the results they reach,” they added.
Despite their ambivalence, North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore said, “I am pleased the trial court has ruled in our favor, upholding the maps drawn by the General Assembly in the most transparent process in North Carolina history.”
“Free and fair elections are the result of an open and honest process,” Moore said. “The General Assembly’s maps were drawn in the light of day, after months of public comment and feedback. Unfortunately Democrat plaintiffs refuse to hold themselves to this standard. Their own proposed maps were drawn in secret, implementing feedback not from voters themselves, but from political consultants paid for by Eric Holder.”
Of course, the North Carolina Supreme Court has already pushed the state’s primary elections back from March to May to accommodate the legal battles over the state’s new maps.
If it does take up the case, it is likely to do so quickly.
In anticipation of that development Republicans are already calling on Democratic Justice Sam Ervin to recuse himself from the case because he is running for reelection this year.
But from there, the situation gets even murkier. One Republican justice, Phil Berger Jr., is the son of the N.C. Senate Leader Phil Berger, who is a defendant in the case. Meanwhile, one of the Democrats on the court, Justice Anita Earls, is actually a founder of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the organization that employs Hilary Harris Klein and is one of the main law firms for the plaintiffs in the case.
Perhaps the biggest outcome from Tuesday ruling, so far, is this: Candidate filing will resume on Feb. 24.
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