Lawsuit: Too much party bias in North Carolina Congress map

Posted August 5, 2016

This map shows the new congressional districts drawn during the Feb. 18 redistricting session.

— North Carolina's Republican-drawn congressional districts were challenged again Friday, this time on arguments that politics played too much of a role in boundaries that were redrawn this year after a court identified racial gerrymandering with a previous map.

The national election reform group Common Cause, the state Democratic Party and Democratic voters sued the state, Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory in federal court in Greensboro.

Those challenging the law want a three-judge panel to rule North Carolina's 13 districts unconstitutional and prevent their use. A primary election was held in June using the boundaries. General election absentee ballots are to be distributed next month based on the maps, so blocking the maps for November's election appears unlikely.

Some judges, even at the U.S. Supreme Court, have said partisan gerrymandering is incompatible with democratic principles. However, the term isn't well defined in court rulings, and drawing district maps for political advantage has not been declared illegal.

But the time is ripe for a landmark ruling, Common Cause argues, after one of the authors of the updated map identified the new boundaries as a partisan gerrymander designed to maintain the Republicans' 10-3 majority in the state congressional delegation.

"We believe the brazen partisan gerrymander in North Carolina has crossed the line and that the court will rule it unconstitutional," said Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn said in a release. "This gerrymander has robbed hundreds of thousands of North Carolina Democrats and Republicans of their ability to elect the candidates of their choice to represent their interests in Washington."

The leaders of the General Assembly's map-making efforts scoffed at the notion of a partisan lawsuit challenging partisan maps.

"It's ironic that a lawsuit filed by partisan Democrats for no other reason than to advance their own partisan interests would attack a map already affirmed by a federal three-judge panel that splits fewer counties and fewer precincts than any Congressional map adopted in the modern era in North Carolina," Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, and Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said in a joint statement. "This is just the latest in a long line of attempts by far-left groups to use the federal court system to take away the rights of North Carolina voters."

The lawsuit largely focuses on comments made by Lewis in February while the Republican-led General Assembly redrew maps first approved in 2011. They were redrawn in response to an earlier court ruling that struck down the majority black 1st and 12th Districts as illegal racial gerrymanders.

The updated map lowered the black voting-age population in the two districts well below 50 percent. Redistricting criteria agreed to by a committee determined racial data wouldn't be used in drawing the maps, but election results since 2008 would.

The criteria also said the committee would seek to maintain the current 10-3 partisan makeup of North Carolina's congressional delegation. The 2011 map had allowed state Republicans to take a majority and pad their advantage over time.

During committee debate, Lewis said he acknowledged "freely that this would be a political gerrymander," but it "is not against the law."

Lewis also proposed that "we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it's possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats," the lawsuit said, citing the committee transcript.

Friday's lawsuit contends the map violates four sections of the U.S. Constitution. The boundaries harm Democrats seeking to get elected to Congress in the 10 districts that favor Republicans and Democratic voters by spreading them out over the GOP-favored districts so their votes won't matter, the lawsuit says.

A panel of judges who struck down the 2011 congressional maps said in June they were troubled by Lewis' comments but their hands were tied because no standards for judging partisan gerrymandering claims had yet emerged.

At the time, lawyers for the mapmakers denied there was any political gerrymandering, in part because Republicans must rely on Democrats and unaffiliated voters to win congressional seats. Republicans comprise 30 percent of registered voters in the state.

Lewis and Rucho noted in their statement that Democrats drew voting districts in the early 1990s that were challenged as a partisan gerrymander, but the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the case. That precedent should hold in this case, they said.

The redistricting lawsuit is one of several filed in North Carolina since 2011, when Republicans took over the legislature and drew congressional and legislative maps. A ruling following a federal trial on allegations of racial gerrymandering is pending.


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  • Stacie Hagwood Aug 5, 2016
    user avatar

    Rep: "You did it first."
    Dem: "No, you"
    Rep: "No, you."
    Dem: "No, you."
    ad nauseum.

    THIS IS A PERFECT EXAMPLE of why we are in the state we are in. Both "sides" care more about being "right" than of repairing the problem. Unless and until we come together to do things fairly for ALL our citizens of this state and this country, we will all be responsible for its demise.

  • Skip Harris Aug 5, 2016
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    You must be joking! NC district 12 was generally considered the most egregious example of gerrymandering in the whole of the nation! That all occurred under Democrats. Youbare right thoug, Republicans should have sued long ago.

  • Raleigh Rose Aug 5, 2016
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    Well, for one if the Dems had gerrymandered like this then shame on the Reps for not taking them to court. Two, the maps under the Dems were no where near this bad. But either way, maps should be drawn by an independent third party that has no personal stake in their outcome. They should all be drawn by what is best to represent all the people, not just a political party.

  • Ronald Woodard Aug 5, 2016
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    How can we blame the Republicans for giving the appearances of gerrymandering when all they did was follow what the Democrats did for the last 100 years. But of course only now is it upsetting the liberal Democrats and their legal org friends.......

  • Ron Coleman Aug 5, 2016
    user avatar

    "this time on arguments that politics played too much of a role"

    Politics plays too much of a role in our everyday life for our every waking moment and these knuckle heads don't sue to stop that.

  • Xander Bogaerts Aug 5, 2016
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    My only issue with CBC is their lack of moderation in one person using multiple accounts in comment sections of an article...

  • Jim Williams Aug 5, 2016
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    LOL, what disingenuous people you are CBC! When the Democrats were in control never a peep was heard. Your lack of objectivity in anything you report is appalling.

  • Jim Bradshaw Aug 5, 2016
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    And the Democrat party always belittled the Republican party for complaining, Funny how uncomfortable it is when the shoe is on the other foot!

  • Charles Phillips Aug 5, 2016
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    you realize the Dept. of Justice ok'd the original maps that the democrats sued over....its just sour grapes at this point

  • Landon Douglas Aug 5, 2016
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    This is nothing more than children crying about who gets to use the playground, the big kids or the little kids.