Courts will get another crack at legislative districts

By: Lindsay Marchell - Carolina Journal

RALEIGH — The House and the Senate finally passed redistricting maps after weeks of contentious committee meetings and public hearings.

A three-judge U.S. District Court panel gave the General Assembly a Sept. 1 deadline to present new legislative maps after the court ruled the districts enacted in 2011 were an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. The court will decide whether to accept the new maps for the 2018 election. Whatever the panel decides, the losing party could appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Senate took up House Bill 927 during a brief session Wednesday with Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, arguing the bill meets the criteria established by both the House and Senate redistricting committees.

“I think it is important to note these maps were drawn without the consideration of race and individuals were not assigned a district on the basis of their race,” Hise explained.

Nevertheless, Sen. Angela R. Bryant, D-Halifax, urged legislators to reject the bill, citing concerns of racial gerrymandering and incumbency protection.

“There are also some state constitutional concerns with this map,” Bryant argued, pointing to a lack of compactness in several counties and violations of the provision requiring counties not to be split when possible.

Bryant also cited districts in Wake and Mecklenburg counties which were not affected by the court decision but still redrawn. She said this violates the constitutional provision forbidding redistricting outside the 10-year census cycle unless ordered by the court.

“Why we would position ourselves for these challenges? I can’t understand given what we’ve been facing in the cost of litigation we have already been through in multiple courts that struck down these maps under some of these same complaints,” Bryant questioned.

Despite the concerns of Democratic lawmakers, the bill passed 30-15.

House Democrats voiced similar criticisms over Senate Bill 691, but like the House bill, S.B. 691 passed 68-47.

Rep. David R. Lewis, R-Harnett, said race was not considered when drawing up the new maps and said the bill remedies any racial disparities pointed out by the court ruling.

“I believe our map complies with traditional redistricting principles outlined by the court,” Lewis said.

Some lawmakers called for the creation of an impartial redistricting commission and argued the people of North Carolina should draw the lines.

“In short, politicians who directly benefit from the drafting of legislative districts should not be the drafters of those districts,” Rep. Joe John, D-Wake said. “We absolutely must have in North Carolina a truly independent, impartial, and most importantly nonpartisan redistricting commission.”

Rep. Carla Cunningham, D-Mecklenburg, criticized Republican lawmakers for not considering race when drawing new district lines. She also questioned whether Republicans were willing to share power.

“Are you ready to share power? That is what redistricting is about,” Cunningham argued. “The people of North Carolina are looking at us to learn how to share power.”

Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, fired back at some of the Democratic representatives’ criticism.

“You want proportional representation, then you need to go change the U.S. Constitution if that’s what you want. If you want a European system, then go out there and get it,” Dollar said. He alluded to the geographic distribution of voters in North Carolina, with Democrats gravitating toward cities and Republicans residing more in rural and suburban areas. “The fact is you have a misdistribution of voters and people willing to support you. That’s your problem [and] you probably ought to try and solve if you want to solve it.”

Dollar also pointed out Senate Republicans won a supermajority in 2010 under maps drawn to favor Democrats.

“Clearly, that was the will of the people,” Dollar said.

Lindsay Marchell

Carolina Journal