Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina NAACP called Tuesday for a demonstration at the Legislative Building later this week as lawmakers start drawing new voting maps.
Rev. William Barber, state president of the NAACP, said lawmakers need to be aware that people are watching how they fix legislative district maps that federal courts have deemed unconstitutional.
A three-judge panel ruled a year ago that the Republican-controlled General Assembly packed too many black voters into 19 House and nine Senate districts when the maps were drawn in 2011. After the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the findings of illegal racial gerrymandering, the three-judge panel said last week that lawmakers need to have new maps ready by Sept. 1.
"When they open up these hearings, we’re going to be in there in mass form. We’re going to have our lawyers pushing," Barber said at a Tuesday morning news conference. "The first thing we want is an open process. We want the maps to follow the mandates of the courts – thank God the courts are going to review these maps – and No. 3, we want this legislature to stop passing legislation because they are unconstitutionally constituted."
"We are taking steps to comply with the federal court's order, so it is difficult to understand why anyone would protest that," Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, and Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, chairmen of the Redistricting Committee, said in a joint statement.
The judges didn't call for a special election before the 2018 legislative session, as map opponents had wanted. The court ruled that the current legislature was elected in good faith, despite the unconstitutional districts, so it does have legal authority to make law and conduct the state's business.
Still, Barber called on lawmakers not to take up any more legislation until after next year's elections using the new maps, noting that they have passed too many laws that polls show North Carolina voters don't support.
"They gained power through racist redistricting, but they’ve used that power to hurt the poorest among us, the workers among us, the immigrants among us, the women among us, the gay among us and the sick among us," he said.
"For six years, we've had an illegally constituted legislature that has passed all these regressive bills," he continued. "They have no moral standing to continue to pass legislation until we have a legislature that is fair, that is constitutional and that is elected according to the proper rules of our American democracy."
Legislative leaders say there's no legal precedent for them to stop working, and the judges said they don't have to.
"Republicans are using a a transparent process to create fair and legal maps after considerable public input, and our work doing the people's business will continue, Barber's sideshow antics notwithstanding," Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, said in an email to WRAL News.
A House and Senate committee is expected to debate and adopt on Thursday the rules lawmakers and their consultants will use to redraw the maps. A string of speakers at a public hearing last week demanded that partisan maneuvering not be part of the process.
A special legislative session is scheduled to start Aug. 18 during which the final maps are expected to be approved.