Raleigh, N.C. — The state chapter of the NAACP called on federal judges Monday to throw out the map of North Carolina's 13 U.S. House districts that lawmakers approved last week, along with the five-year-old map of state legislative districts.
The congressional map is back before a three-judge panel that ruled on Feb. 5 that lawmakers relied too heavily on the race of voters in 2011 when they set the boundaries for the 1st Congressional District and the 12th Congressional District.
The voters who challenged those two districts have asked the judges to decide by March 18 whether the new map passes muster, but NAACP officials said the judges ought to draw a map themselves, as another panel of judges did recently in Virginia.
NAACP officials said the new map still disproportionately packs minority voters across North Carolina into three congressional districts, even though lawmakers used only the results of recent elections – not the race of voters – to draw the map.
"You can, in fact, use partisanism as a cover for another racial agenda," said Rev. William Barber, state NAACP president. "They have abused the Voting Rights Act 50 years after its signing, and we believe it is a great travesty."
NAACP attorney Irving Joyner said the U.S. Supreme Court's denial of a stay of the judges' decision made him optimistic.
"The fact that no justices on the court issued a dissenting opinion gives us real hope that the Supreme Court is tired of these cases coming from North Carolina that are constructed for the sole purpose of undermining the voting strength of African-Americans," Joyner said.
He said the NAACP will petition the Supreme Court to combine all of the state's redistricting cases, including a challenge to state House and Senate districts, which he said are also unconstitutional.
"The same logic, the same justifications that the General Assembly used to draw the congressional districts was the exact same thing that they used to draw the legislative districts," he said. "We need a decision as soon as possible."
The lawsuit challenging the legislative districts is scheduled to be heard by federal judges in April.
North Carolina Republican Party director Dallas Woodhouse said the new congressional map complies fully with the judges' instructions and should be upheld.
"Unfortunately, it appears the NAACP wants to inject race back into congressional map drawing and wants to do so for the purpose of electing Democrats and no other purpose whatsoever," Woodhouse said in a statement.
Barber urged the courts to resolve the matter quickly, noting that the state has already had two elections in the unconstitutional districts.
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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.