This story originally published online at NC Policy Watch.
A panel of Superior Court judges on Wednesday replaced a new map for North Carolina’s congressional districts with their own, while deciding that the state House and Senate plans the legislature adopted last week meet constitutional standards set by the state Supreme Court.
Republican legislators and all groups challenging their plans asked the Supreme Court to stay the trial court decision. The Supreme Court denied all their requests. Candidate filing under the revised maps starts this morning.
Lawyers for Republican legislators—the defendants in the case —objected to the trial court decision to replace the congressional map, saying the judges overstepped by substituting their judgment for that of the legislature.
The three-judge panel appointed three retired state jurists as special masters to help evaluate the legislature’s latest redistricting plans.
“The trial court was not tasked to use retired judges and mathematicians to create the most fair map in all the land; rather, the trial court was tasked by this Court to adopt or approve a constitutionally compliant maps,” the Republicans’ lawyers said in court papers filed Wednesday afternoon.
By imposing its own congressional plan, the trial court “is likely violating federal law,” the Republicans’ lawyers wrote. In a recent radio interview, House Speaker Tim Moore said Republicans were keeping open an option for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, groups that challenged the first set of redistricting plans last year, the NC League of Conservation Voters, Common Cause, and a group of voters backed by the National Redistricting Foundation, wanted one or both of the newest state House and Senate maps thrown out.
The League of Conservation Voters and the National Redistricting Foundation voter group said the new state Senate map remains skewed in favor of Republicans and wanted it replaced.
Common Cause wanted both the state House and state Senate plans changed, arguing that Republican legislators should have drawn a House district and a Senate district where Black voters can elect candidates of their choice.
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, criticized the decision allowing the state Senate map to be used, calling that redistricting plan in a statement “blatantly unfair and unconstitutional” and possibly “the worst of the bunch.”
Republicans represented the congressional map they approved last week as one that that had six Republican districts, four Democratic districts, and four that were competitive.
The Superior Court judges wrote in their order Wednesday that the congressional plan did not pass the tests the Supreme Court set out to determine partisan fairness.
Redistricting expert Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report said on Twitter that the court-ordered congressional plan results in seven Republican districts, six Democratic districts, and one competitive district. In addition to a new Charlotte-area Democratic district, there is a competitive but Democratic-leaning district, which includes half of Wake County.
But to get a map that is proportional to the state’s lean, the map splits Black communities in Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Fayetteville and Raleigh, Wasserman wrote.
Redistricting experts and political scientists testified that the Republicans’ first set of plans was so skewed that it would allow the GOP to expand its majorities in the legislature and keep them no matter the changes in the political climate.
Under the state’s first congressional map, Republicans would likely have won at least 10 of 14 districts.
The Supreme Court earlier this month found that the first set of Republican-drawn congressional, state House, and state Senate districts were unconstitutional pro-GOP partisan gerrymanders that diluted Democratic votes. In redistricting, “the General Assembly must not diminish or dilute on the basis of partisan affiliation any individual’s vote,” the majority wrote.
The Supreme Court ordered the legislature to redraw the plans for election districts and submit them to the panel of three Superior Court judges for review.
The legislature’s new House plan passed with near-unanimous votes last week.
No Democrats voted for the revised congressional or state Senate plans. Democrats argued that Republicans used mathematical formulas as a cover for gerrymandered plans, Policy Watch reported.
In court documents filed Wednesday afternoon, lawyers for the National Redistricting Foundation-backed voters and for the League of Conservation Voters said the legislature approved another terrible Senate redistricting plan.
Bernard Grofman, a political scientist from the University of California-Irvine whom the special masters hired to evaluate the new maps called the Senate plan “a pro-Republican gerrymander” in his report.
The three-judge panel in its decision said that any partisan skew in legislative plans rises from “political geography,” or where voters live. Lawyers for Republican legislators have argued that there are more Republican districts because Democrats are concentrated in relatively few areas while Republicans are spread more evenly throughout the state.
Lawyers for the League of Conservation Voters said the revised Senate plan retained half the partisan skew of the map the Supreme Court rejected.
Comparing Senate district outcomes to results of statewide elections since 2012, in nine races that were decided by less than 1 percent, Republicans would win 27 or 28 seats in the 50-seat Senate in eight times; Democrats would win 25 seats just once, according to lawyers for the League of Conservation Voters.
In nine statewide elections where Republican candidates won statewide elections by 3 percent to 6 percent, Republicans win Senate supermajorities six times out of nine.
In elections where Democrats won statewide elections by 3 percent to 6 percent, Democrats never win a state Senate majority.
Lawyers with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who are representing Common Cause maintain legislators used “incomplete and skewed data” in evaluating their plans, and should have conducted a study of racially polarized voting.
In a committee meeting last week, Rep. Destin Hall, the House redistricting chairman, said an expert Republicans hired for the redistricting trial earlier this year that a district with a majority Black voting population did not need to be drawn.
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice submitted reports from its own analyst that show racially polarized voting in Wayne County House district and a Senate district covering Wayne, Greene and Wilson counties.
The Southern Coalition lawyers suggest reconfiguring both those districts to prevent vote dilution.
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