Raleigh, N.C. — Almost a year to the day since the North Carolina Supreme Court first ruled in favor of congressional and legislative voting maps drawn by the Republican-led General Assembly in 2011, the court once again gave its blessing to the maps on Friday.
The U.S. Supreme Court in April ordered the state court to take a second look at the maps, which first passed judicial muster in the state on Dec. 19, 2014, in light of a decision on an Alabama redistricting case where the justices found lawmakers in that state relied too much on "mechanical" numerical percentages while drawing legislative districts in which blacks comprised a majority of the population.
Critics of the North Carolina maps say GOP lawmakers crammed as many black voters as possible into a few districts to make other districts easier to win for Republican candidates. They maintained that the ruling in the Alabama case mirrored issues with the boundaries drawn by the General Assembly and that two dozen legislative districts, along with the majority-black 1st and 12th congressional districts, should be struck down and the maps redrawn for the 2016 elections.
A divided North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that a special three-judge panel that reviewed the maps studied each legislative and congressional district individually and found that race was one of several factors, but not the predominant one, in drawing the maps.
"Where racial identification correlates highly with party affiliation, placing additional Democratic voters in districts that already vote Democratic is not forbidden as long as the motivation for doing so is not primarily racial," Associate Justice Paul Newby wrote for the majority. "Accordingly, we conclude that plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate improper packing or gerrymandering based upon race and that the districts are narrowly tailored to comply with section 2 (of the Voting Rights Act)."
But Associate Justice Cheri Beasley, in a dissent backed by justices Robin Hudson and Sam Ervin IV, said GOP map-makers resorted to the same mechanical techniques disallowed in Alabama by creating voting districts with a majority black voting population.
Former state Sen. Margaret Dickson, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said Friday's ruling would be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Today’s ruling by the North Carolina Supreme Court reflects their continued misunderstanding of the facts in this case and the law," Dickson said in a statement. "As we have expected, the ultimate decision on these issues will have to be made by the Supreme Court of the United States."
Meanwhile, the chief architects of the redistricting plan said the appeals should end.
"We are pleased with the court’s decision, which validates these maps for a fourth time and once again makes clear the General Assembly protected the rights of voters and established voting boundaries that are fair and legal," Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, and Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, said in a statement. "It’s time for these left-wing groups to stop wasting taxpayer money pursuing their frivolous and politically motivated appeals and finally accept the will of the voters."