This story originally published online at NC Policy Watch.
A three-judge panel has appointed three former jurists as “special masters” who will help evaluate new redistricting plans, instead of accepting recommendations from Republican defendants and groups that sued to have the plans changed.
Republican legislative leaders had recommended John Morgan, whom a Virginia lawmaker called a “gerrymandering mastermind,” help judge North Carolina’s revised plans. Morgan knows about North Carolina redistricting. He was deposed in 2012 in a North Carolina redistricting case, where he said he worked on state Senate plans for the GOP.
Lawyers for the League of Conservation Voters formally objected to the appointment Morgan special master, noting he was a technical advisor to a consultant in Ohio who drew a Senate map there that an Ohio court recently threw out, and that he helped draw maps in Virginia that a federal court invalidated in 2018.
In their objection to Morgan, lawyers for Common Cause and the National Redistricting Foundation-backed voters wrote, “Mr. Morgan is far too bound up with Legislative Defendants specifically and pro Republican gerrymandering generally to even plausibly be considered ‘neutral.’”
According to his résumé, Morgan is working as mapping expert for redistricting commissions in three states.
The state Supreme Court this month threw out congressional and legislative districts, saying they were unconstitutional partisan Republican gerrymanders. The trial court will determine whether the revised maps the legislature submits comply with the Supreme Court’s order.
The three groups that got the maps overturned, Common Cause, the League of Conservation Voters, and a group supported by the National Redistricting Foundation, all wanted Nathaniel Persily to be the special master. Persily also knows North Carolina. He was the special master in a North Carolina legislative redistricting case in federal court in 2017, where the court recommended adopting all the districts he drew. A North Carolina three-judge panel appointed him in 2019 to advise on another redrawing of legislative districts.
The three-judge panel chose former Supreme Court Justice Bob Edmunds, a Republican; former UNC System president and Superior Court judge Tom Ross, a Democrat; and former Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, a former Republican who is now registered as unaffiliated.
Ross is listed as a co-chairman of North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform.
Orr is one of the lawyers working to keep Republican U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn off the ballot.
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