Legal challenges loom as NC's new congressional, legislative maps clear General Assembly

Posted November 3, 2021 8:14 p.m. EDT
Updated November 4, 2021 6:48 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina's new congressional and legislative district maps received final approval in the General Assembly on Thursday. But that might not be the final word on them.

The maps, which are reworked every decade to account for changes in population, are usually drawn by the party in power to keep them in power. Critics say the Republican legislative majority went overboard on that point this year.

The congressional map will give Republicans at least two more seats, and possibly three, in the U.S. House, moving from the current 8-5 split to 10-4 or 11-3, after North Carolina adds a 14th U.S. House seat next year.

Meanwhile, the legislative maps will likely deliver Republican super-majorities in both the state House and state Senate, allowing GOP lawmakers to once again override a governor's veto with ease.

The nonpartisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project gave all three maps failing grades for partisan bias.

But Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, who chairs the redistricting effort in the Senate, said no political data was used to set the district lines.

"We drew a fair and legal map," Hise said Wednesday. "We drew a map without consideration of racial data, and we drew a map without consideration of political information or data."

Like his counterpart in the House, Rep. Destin Hall, R-Caldwell, Hise called the redistricting effort the most transparent process anywhere in the country and ever in North Carolina. They both noted repeatedly during committee and floor sessions this week that all of the maps were produced in public, on camera.

"Perhaps the problem is not the process or these maps. Perhaps the problem is your ideas," Hall told House Democrats on Thursday.

Rep. Kandie Smith, D-Pitt, suggested that Republicans drew the maps in secret using political data and then simply recreated them in the open meeting, a charge Hall denied.

"The people are supposed to elect us and not the other way around, but we see where where we’re headed," Smith said. "When I look at these congressional maps, when I look at the House maps, all of them, all of them, they reek of – they stink."

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, said the end result was maps that achieve the GOP’s sole intent of giving itself a big political advantage for the next decade.

"You could look at the third-party assessments of the maps that have been drawn, which I think reflects evidence that there’s still partisan gerrymandering," Chaudhuri said.

Left-leaning groups protested the redistricting process outside the Legislative Building on Wednesday, saying lawmakers purposely limited public input and then ignored the comments they received about the maps.

"Good map drawing starts with a fair process and ends with a fair result," said Joselle Torres, spokeswoman for Democracy North Carolina.

Asher Hildebrand, an associate professor of public policy at Duke University who studies redistricting, noted that the maps changed very little during the process to reflect any criticisms or requested adjustments.

"It's unclear how much, if any, public input it reflected," Hildebrand said. "While they did, in unveiling the map, cherry-pick some statements from the public hearings to justify some of the decisions they made, it's not clear if they considered public comments in any kind of systematic way in developing the map."

"If there's one takeaway from this round so far, for me, it's been that, again, that a fair process does not necessarily produce a fair outcome," he added.

Although political gerrymandering isn't against the law, state courts have thrown out maps that were extreme partisan gerrymanders in the past.

"There's clearly no question that they will be litigated, and perhaps that litigation will produce a fairer outcome," Hildebrand said. "But, ultimately, this is going to require a change through statute or constitutional amendment to the way maps are drawn."

One lawsuit has already been filed against the maps, and others are expected in the coming weeks and months.

Second District Congresswoman Deborah Ross, whose district would likely remain a Democratic stronghold under the proposed congressional map, said the redistricting process needs to change to end the seemingly ongoing arguments and litigation over maps.

"This map does not represent the best interests of North Carolinians," Ross said in a statement. "Members of both parties could have worked together in good faith to develop a fair map that reflects the people of this state. North Carolinians deserve fair maps and a transparent redistricting process. They got neither."

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