A panel of federal judges has ruled that the North Carolina General Assembly failed to remedy unconstitutional racial gerrymandering with their redrawing of the state’s election district lines.
Last year, the same three judges ruled that the maps — which have now been used to elect the state legislature on three occasions — were unconstitutional due to racial gerrymandering, a finding that was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court in June.
State lawmakers were tasked with redrawing the district lines, but hired the same man who drew the original maps to fix the mistakes. After reviewing the revised lines, the panel of judges remained skeptical of districts in Cumberland, Guilford, Hoke, Mecklenburg and Wake counties, prompting them to appoint a Stanford University professor to take another stab at redistricting the state.
“This is the outcome of liberal judge shopping and it’s what liberal judges do,” Lincoln County state Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincolnton Republican, said. “They will not be satisfied until they stack the deck so that Democrats can win but, sadly for them, the state is not liberal. This basically takes the citizens out of the democratic process and makes judges legislators. This has turned into yet another legal battle and North Carolina is seen as a swing state, so you’ll see battles like this in the coming political years.”
The state legislature, in which the Republican Party holds a veto-proof majority in each chamber, requested another chance to redraw the lines. 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 — denied the state a second opportunity to do so.
“The State is not entitled to multiple opportunities to remedy its unconstitutional districts,” the judges stated in their order issued last week.
Nathaniel Persily, the James B. McClatchy Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, has been tasked with redrawing the maps by the panel of judges. 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, is confident that his district won’t be altered again. The redrawn lines submitted by the state earlier this year 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, and Curtis expects it to remain that way.
Saine, whose district wasn’t altered during the first redrawing earlier this year, also expects his district to remain intact. House District 97 is one of the few districts 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 each said that they expect the redrawn maps to be appealed to the Supreme Court, which could create confusion with the filing period for 2018 North Carolina elections scheduled for February.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen because we’re kind of in uncharted territory,” Curtis said. “I would hope that the Supreme Court would realize the time constraints and make their decision on whether to hear the case quickly. It will surely be made clear to them that we will have election chaos next year unless this is settled.”
The judges have given Persily a Dec. 1 deadline to submit his redrawn districts and a hearing on the maps will likely be scheduled for early January.