No one comes to defense of Greensboro redistricting

Posted July 24, 2015 7:03 p.m. EDT
Updated June 30, 2016 10:44 a.m. EDT

— A federal court ruling halting the redrawing of Greensboro City Council districts has prompted plenty of finger-pointing in Raleigh, but the blame game is because of what happened at the defense table Thursday, not the decision from the bench.

No one showed up at the federal courthouse in Greensboro to defend the law creating the new districts, which was rammed through the General Assembly three weeks ago after hours of debate and plenty of political arm-twisting.

"I was surprised that no one from the legislature filed anything," Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughn said. "They put so much time and effort into it, I thought that they would file a brief or be here in some capacity."

Legislative leaders have given themselves the authority to defend laws they've passed, and they have done so for other laws, such as legislative redistricting and the marriage amendment. But in this case, they did not take any action.

Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, said the Attorney General's Office should be defending the Greensboro law.

"It is shameful that Attorney General Roy Cooper refuses to do his duty and defend state law," Wade said in a statement Friday.

Samantha Cole, a spokeswoman for Cooper, said lawmakers were told they would need to fight Greensboro's lawsuit themselves because the state wasn't being sued. Greensboro officials sued the Guilford County Board of Elections, which would have to carry out the redistricting plans.

"Our litigation resources are currently tied up in other court challenges of laws that have been passed by the General Assembly," Cole said in an email to WRAL News.

Spokeswomen for House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger declined to comment Friday.

Wade is the force behind the law, saying her constituents want the City Council changed.

The measure would have forced some black incumbents off the council by combining their districts, skewed districts to favor Republicans and banned the city from changing council districts in the future without legislative permission.

House members initially balked, saying public hearings on the plan were overwhelmingly against it and that people should have a say in the form of their local government. But the law was enacted after some closed-door meetings at the Legislative Building.

“It is disappointing that (the court) decision will prolong the current regime’s desperate attempt to protect their power and preserve the status quo," Wade said in a statement. "The law passed by the General Assembly will finally ensure that people from all across the city can serve and be represented on the Greensboro City Council – not just those from a few select neighborhoods."

It might not have mattered who showed up to defend the law. U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles said it has no rational basis and will likely be permanently overturned. She ordered a trial be scheduled for the case before the 2017 municipal election to resolve the issue.