Raleigh, N.C. — As the House and the Senate prepared Thursday to convene an extra session on redistricting, the bicameral Legislative Black Caucus called on chamber leaders to move quickly to redraw the legislative districts that were found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday called the lawmakers into a concurrent extra or "special" session, saying state law gives them 14 days to redraw the maps or else cede that power to federal judges overseeing the case.
Legislative leaders disagree that the governor's proclamation started the clock on the 14-day window – they say that requires a court mandate. House Rules Chairman David Lewis, R-Harnett, and Senate Redistricting Chairman Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, called the governor's announcement a "political stunt" intended to distract lawmakers from their end-of-session work and noted that Cooper could not compel them to produce new maps. Some even questioned whether Cooper has the constitutional power to call the session.
Nonetheless, the extra session was scheduled to begin at 2 p.m Thursday, and Phil Strach and Thomas Farr, Republican attorneys who worked on the unsuccessful defense of the 2011 maps, were seen in the Legislative Building Thursday morning while the House GOP remained in a lengthy closed-door caucus meeting.
Legislative Black Caucus chairwoman Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, said the high court's decision to affirm a three-judge panel's mandate to redraw the maps was unanimous and unambiguous.
"Every day that the legislative leaders drag their feet in enacting these remedial districts, they are trampling on the constitutional rights of all North Carolinians and engaging in racial discrimination," Bryant said.
"Today is the first step toward leveling the playing field for our democracy," said Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson. "North Carolina has fought too long over these maps. The sooner we finish, the quicker we can focus on important policies and issues ... like jobs, education and health care."
Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, said the state has already spent more than $8 million defending the unconstitutional maps.
"The state has been, I guess you'd say, batting zero in terms of defending these suits. It's time for us to move on and make these districts constitutional," Michaux said.
The high court's order told the three-judge panel to reconsider its call for special elections in 2017, and Republican leaders have said there's no need to have elections before the regular contests in 2018, which would give them the rest of the year to redraw the maps.
But Bryant disagreed, adding that, regardless of when the next election is held, the districts should be redrawn immediately so that the court can review them. She said it was black voters who the courts declared had been illegally packed into black lawmakers' districts to diminish their influence in surrounding districts.
"People's constitutional rights are being violated and have been violated over the years, for six years. That is an unconscionable harm that we have all faced and our constituents all face and continue to face on a daily basis," Bryant said. "We deserve an immediate remedy."