RALEIGH — A joint legislative redistricting committee met Wednesday to begin the court-ordered process for redrawing a minimum of 28 legislative electoral maps.
Sen. David Lewis, R-Harnett, chairman of the House redistricting committee, said the goal is to get input from public hearings in August, September, and October. That would be added to lawmakers’ recommendations to create criteria to use and have new maps prepared for a redistricting special session in November.
Although state and county populations have been in flux the past seven years, Lewis said the General Assembly must use 2010 Census data in drawing new maps. An ideal Senate district is made up of 190,710 people; an ideal House district is made up of 79,462 people.
Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, issued warmed-over talking points as Democrats peppered Lewis with questions. He said the current General Assembly was “operating with an unconstitutional makeup” because a three-judge federal court panel declared nine Senate and 19 House districts drawn in 2011 were unconstitutional gerrymanders.
The panel said Republicans relied too heavily on race in drawing the maps but found no ill intent or discriminatory motivation.
After the meeting, Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, chairman of the Senate redistricting panel, dismissed any notion the General Assembly was acting improperly by meeting despite the judges’ ruling.
“I would say that under any circumstance, and under historical and even federal court rulings, that once we are sworn in as a body we have full authority to act as that body,” Hise said.
Hise, like other lawmakers, had no insight on what action might be taken at Thursday’s hearing in Greensboro on the so-called Covington case by the three-judge panel in U.S. District Court for the state’s middle district.
“I think the [U.S.] Supreme Court was clear in telling the court that they had to consider the impact on the states, and that previously they had not done so,” Hise said. Given that admonition he expects the three-judge panel to give greater deference to the state constitution, and the impact any decision would have on the state.
Hise said he does not expect the court to take an extreme route forcing the state to ignore vital parts of its constitution, but warned GOP lawmakers would be prepared to fight if it did.
Among the many complicating factors of this case is that it would be impossible to draw new maps for just the 28 districts declared unconstitutional gerrymanders. Lawyers for Republican leadership said in court filings up to 81 of 120 House seats, and 35 of 50 Senate seats would be affected.
Dan Way is a staff writer for Carolina Journal.