North Carolina will elect new leadership in November but, as the calendar flips to 2018, the state’s election districts remain in limbo.
A panel of three federal judges will meet in Greensboro today to discuss a new set of maps drawn by Nathan Persily. Persily, the James B. McClatchy Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, was tasked with fixing the districts after the panel determined that state lawmakers failed to correct the unconstitutional racial gerrymandering.
The judges — Catherine Eagles and Thomas Schroeder of the U.S. Middle District of North Carolina and James Wynn of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — ruled in 2016 that the maps, which have now been used to elect the state legislature on three occasions, were drawn unconstitutionally. That finding was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court in June.
State legislators were instructed to redraw the lines following the Supreme Court’s ruling, but hired the same man who crafted the original maps to fix his own mistakes. After reviewing the revised maps, the panel of judges remained skeptical of districts in Cumberland, Guilford, Hoke, Mecklenburg and Wake counties, prompting them to hire Persily for another redrawing of the maps.
Persily — a nationally recognized scholar of constitutional law, election law and the democratic process — has helped redraw districts in New York, Maryland, Georgia and Connecticut in similar court-ordered processes.
State Sen. David Curtis, a Denver Republican whose district includes Lincoln County, remains optimistic that his district won’t be altered again. The redrawn lines submitted by the state shifted Senate District 44, which Curtis represents, to include the entirety of Cleveland County in addition to a small portion of Gaston County and the entirety of Lincoln County. Curtis, although he hasn’t seen Persily’s maps, expects his district to maintain that configuration.
Lincoln County state Rep. Jason Saine, whose district wasn’t altered during the state’s redrawing last year, also expects his district to remain intact. House District 97 is one of the few within the state that encompasses an entire county and only that county. The population of Lincoln County is also close to the exact number designated for a state House district.
Curtis and Saine both told the Times-News that they expect tomorrow’s decision, no matter the outcome, to be appealed to the Supreme Court once again.
“Whoever loses is going to appeal to the Supreme Court,” Curtis said. “Then the question will be whether the Supreme Court decides to accept it. If they do then anything is possible because the Supreme Court could say that the Obama Justice Department and North Carolina Supreme Court were correct and that the original maps were fine, which would put me back in Lincoln and Iredell. Or they could say that the new maps are the way to go and, if that’s the case, I’ll have Lincoln and Cleveland.”
This means that the state’s election districts could still be uncertain when the filing period for this year’s statewide elections opens next month.
“Based on some of the talk and analysis that I’ve seen and heard among legislators and folks in the legal world, there are parts of (Persily’s) maps that are problematic,” Saine said. “That probably would lend to a challenge straight up to the Supreme Court … The impact here is that we could end up with folks gearing up to run for office, but because of a court that wants to dabble in what is in my opinion judicial overreach, puts things in limbo as folks decide whether or not to run based on what the district looks like. If my district were 75 percent urban Democrats I would probably wouldn’t run because there’s no way that my values would match up with that district. The shift of a couple of precincts can really change a district vastly.”
The panel of federal judges will hold a hearing this morning at 9:30 a.m. where arguments will be made for and against Persily’s maps.