The Transylvania Times -

Court Correct On Redistricting

 

August 7, 2017



In the continuing case of Sandra Little Covington versus the state of North Carolina, last Monday three federal judges of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina ruled the General Assembly must submit a new redistricting plan by Sept. 1, 2017 and supply extensive documentation to support the redistricting plan. The court also ruled that there would be no special elections in 2017, but would release its explanation for that decision later.

Covington and other voters sued the state, claiming that the districts drawn in 2011 for state House and Senate seats were racially gerrymandered. On Aug. 15 of last year, the District Court ruled that 28 N.C. House and Senate districts had been racially gerrymandered. On Nov. 29, the court then directed the General Assembly, which had created the unconstitutional districts, to draw new districts by March 15, 2017 and to hold special elections in 2017. The state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On June 5, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed the constitutional rights of North Carolina voters had been violated and that new districts be drawn, but it remanded the decision about special elections back to the District Court for a more analysis.

Most recently, attorneys representing the leaders of the General Assembly – Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, etc. – argued that submitting new districts by Aug. 11 did not allow enough time to receive public input. The judges agreed that public input is important and extended the deadline to Sept. 1, not Nov. 14 as the state legislative leaders had requested.

The District Court sided with the plaintiffs in rejecting nearly all of the state’s arguments. The plaintiffs argued the state has had plenty of time (50 weeks) to redraw the districts. The plaintiffs said state law gives the General Assembly “two weeks to remedy any defect identified by North Carolina courts in a state legislative or congressional districting plan” and that their deadline of two weeks “is administratively and legislatively feasible because the General Assembly was able to redraw and enact new legislative districting plans within two weeks” of a Supreme Court decision back in 2002.

The judges agreed, noting “the General Assembly already has had ample time to enact a remedial districting plan. Indeed, the General Assembly has been in session several times since the Court entered its order directing the General Assembly to draw new districts in August 2016.”

The judges also said that Berger, Moore, etc. “have offered no evidence to support their contention that they need three-and-a-half more months to remedy the constitutional violations identified by this court almost a year ago” and that “the General Assembly’s expert indicates that the relevant whole county groupings required to comply with state law already have been determined, rendering the task of drawing remedial district plans less onerous.”

In other words, most of the redistricting work already has been done. The leadership in the General Assembly has been stonewalling so that no special elections are held in 2017 or in 2018 before the General Assembly goes into short session, scheduled for next May.

The court was also critical of the General Assembly’s inaction, stating “The General Assembly’s failure to comply with this court’s August 2016 order or to take any apparent action since the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed this court’s judgment tends to indicate that the General Assembly does not appreciate the need to move promptly to cure the unconstitutional racial gerrymanders in the 2011 districting plans.”

Another sign of that the District Court is suspicious of the motives and actions of the state legislature is the requirement that the General Assembly provide extensive documentation as to how the new districts are drawn. The District Court has required the General Assembly to provide transcripts of all committee hearings and floor debates; a description of the process each committee uses in enacting the new plans, as well as the the identities of those involved; statistics on which the districts are based; any alternative plans they consider; and the criteria, including race, used to create the plans.

The courts have ruled several times recently that the North Carolina General Assembly has racially gerrymandered both federal and state districts. It is well past time for the state to draw new non-gerrymandered districts that do not violate the Constitution of the United States.

 
 

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