Raleigh, N.C. — Top leaders at the General Assembly are getting ready to redraw the state's congressional districts next week, even though they are hoping that the U.S. Supreme Court will save them the trouble.
House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger appointed a committee Friday to hold hearings across the state on Monday. The committee will meet on Tuesday to consider that feedback and how it will apply to a federal court order issued last week.That order, issued by a three-judge panel, gave the General Assembly until Feb. 19 to redraw the 1st Congressional District, which sprawls through northeastern North Carolina, and the 12th Congressional District, which runs from Charlotte to Greensboro. Because those two districts are so intertwined with other regions of the state, lawmakers will likely have to adjust much of North Carolina's congressional map in order to comply with the ruling.
However, the state has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step in. Chief Justice John Roberts ordered opponents of the maps to explain by Tuesday why he should not grant the state's request for a stay.
Unless the Supreme Court acts by the end of the week, lawmakers plan to be back in town Thursday and Friday to redraw the maps based on the court order and the advice they get on Monday.
"Because there was no direct curative language in the opinion, we're hoping input from the public will shed light on what they want us to do," Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, the House co-chair of the committee, said Friday.
The trio of lower court judges ruled that lawmakers unconstitutionally drew their maps based on race.
"We know that not to have been the case," Lewis said Friday, adding that the court ruled that it would not hear from the state's experts on the race-related matter.
The judges said the state cannot use its current maps for the upcoming March 15 primary. However, voting has already begun, with 13,592 voters already requesting mail-in absentee ballots as of Friday. Of those, 1,153 have been cast, according to the State Board of Elections.
"We've undertaken a process that would normally take several months to compress that, essentially, into a little over a week," Moore, R-Cleveland, said Friday. "We're confident the court decision will be stayed, but not knowing for sure, we feel like we need to comply with what's been ordered."
How redistricting impacts NC voters
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North Carolina's Congressional District 12, currently represented by Greensboro Democrat Alma Adams, snakes up the Interstate 85 corridor and includes areas in Charlotte, the Triad and several cities in between. It was one of two districts federal judges found unconstitutional on Feb. 5, ruling they were drawn across racial lines.
Census estimates from 2014 show the district has a population of more than 778,000. About 51 percent of its residents are black, compared with about 22 percent for the state as a whole.
Even prior to redistricting by the Republican-led General Assembly in 2011 however, District 12's odd shape has been used by critics as a clear example of gerrymandering to capture certain demographics. But federal judges in Friday's ruling took careful note of the increase of the district's black voting age population from 43.8 percent to 50.7 percent in the most recent move to redistrict.
"Such a consistent and whopping increase makes it clear that the general assembly's predominant intent regarding district 12 was also race," Circuit Judge Roger Gregory wrote for the majority.
As of Feb. 5, 354 people in the district requested absentee ballots for the March 15 primary, according to the State Board of Elections.