Local Politics

Court: N.C. House District Unconstitutional

Posted August 24, 2007 3:44 p.m. EDT
Updated August 24, 2007 6:49 p.m. EDT

— State lawmakers must recast at least one House district after the state Supreme Court ruled Friday that the district was drawn unconstitutionally four years ago.

Redrawing House District 18 in Pender County could create a domino effect, however, requiring other legislative districts to be redrawn as well. Observers also said the ruling could impact how minority districts are drawn in a statewide redistricting that will follow the 2010 census.

The court split 4-2 in the decision, ruling along party lines, that Pender County should never have been split into two House districts in 2003. The justices ordered the district be redrawn, but said the process could wait until after the 2008 elections because the General Assembly won't convene again until next May, after the filing period for 2008 candidates has closed.

"We are cognizant that the General Assembly will need time to redistrict not only House District 18 but also other legislative districts directly and indirectly affected by this opinion," said the ruling, written by Associate Justice Robert Edmunds. "To minimize disruption to the ongoing election cycle, the remedy ... shall be stayed until after the 2008 election."

After twice having courts overturn legislative maps drawn after the 2000 census, lawmakers devised a map in 2003 that included splitting Pender County into two House districts because it didn't have the population to form its own district. District 18 was drawn to eate to include 42 percent minority voters by combining parts of Pender and New Hanover counties.

The District 18 seat is held by embattled Rep. Thomas Wright, a Wilmington Democrat under investigation by the State Board of Elections for possible campaign finance violations and by the State Bureau of Investigation in a fraud case.

Pender County officials sued over the redistricting, and the Supreme Court ruling announced Friday said it violated the state constitution's "whole county provision" that prohibits splitting counties to create legislative districts.

Chief Justice Sarah Parker and Associate Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson disagreed with the ruling, saying lawmakers correctly drew District 18 to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.

"We recognize that, like the application or exercise of most constitutional rights, the right of the people of this state to legislative districts which do not divide counties is not absolute," Parker wrote in her dissent.