Federal judges weigh legality of NC legislative voting maps

Posted April 11, 2016

— Two months after the voting maps for North Carolina's congressional districts were found to be unconstitutional, a lawsuit challenging the maps for the state's legislative districts went before three federal judges in Greensboro on Monday.

Thirty-one voters sued the state, alleging that nine Senate districts and 19 House districts were packed with black voters by Republican lawmakers in 2011 to lessen the influence of minority voters in surrounding legislative districts.

Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, who represents one of the challenged districts, said in court that he has been elected many times in a district that was not majority black, so it wasn't necessary to increase the percentage of black voters in his district for him to be elected again.

"I thought the process was a step backwards in time," Blue testified. "There was no reason – no legitimate reason – to ferret out African-American voters."

Data shows that the 2011 map removed 38,000 white voters and just 2,100 black voters from Blue's Senate District 14 after the 2010 census. The map placed almost two-thirds of the black, voting-age residents in Wake County in his district.

"I thought it was a direct affront to the voters in my district," he testified, "suggesting that the white voters in my district were racist."

Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, had also been elected in a district that was not majority minority, yet Republican lawmakers packed her district with thousands of black voters from a neighboring Senate district.

"Now, you can see that that district swung totally Republican, and so that's what happens," Robinson said outside of court Monday. "You have one African-American, but you make sure there are no other Democrats elected in the other districts."

The lawmakers who drew the maps and the Attorney General's Office, which is defending them in court, argue that the maps follow the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act, which requires race to be a factor to some extent in drawing some voting districts.

A panel of three federal judges ruled in February that lawmakers relied too heavily on race when creating the 1st Congressional District and the 12th Congressional District, and they ordered the maps redrawn. Lawmakers then drew new maps, leaving race out entirely from the map-making calculus, and submitted them to the court. The judges have yet to approve them, even though the state has rescheduled its primaries for U.S. House races for June 7.

Three different federal judges are hearing the case against the legislative maps, but the plaintiffs say they should take the earlier ruling into consideration and force lawmakers to redraw the state House and Senate maps as well.

"The evidence is even stronger in these legislative districts," Blue said outside of court. "The 14th Amendment says, 'Buddy, you can't use race (to draw voting districts) unless it's for a compelling state interest.'"

The legislative maps have already been upheld by state and federal judges, but if the three-judge panel throws them out, the Attorney General's Office plans to ask the court not to require new maps until the next election cycle because legislative primaries were held in March.

The trial is expected to last all week, and no decision is expected before May.


Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all