Federal court close to deciding on new districts

Nathaniel Persily

Federal court close to deciding on new districts
January 11
04:00 2018

If political body language means anything, Republican legislative leaders in the N.C . General Assembly, and their attorneys in the Covington vs. North Carolina redistricting case seem almost resolved that the federal three-judge panel hearing the case is going to rule against them sometime soon, and implement the special master’s redrawn voting maps in place of their own.

That much seemed clear during the Jan. 5 hearing in Federal Court in Greensboro last Friday, as attorneys for the state did their best attacking Special Master Nathaniel Persily’s work, which effectively removed the illegal racial gerrymanders evident in the GOP’s 2011 voting maps, and their 2017 redrawn districts that the three-judge panel found 29 to be legally problematic as well.

At stake is the 2018 NC legislative mid-term elections coming up in November. With Democrats energized to retake the state legislature from the Republican majority, many political observers expect Republican attorneys to appeal an expected negative ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, thereby delaying the scheduled Feb. 12 through 28 candidate filing dates for the May primaries, and possibly throwing off the entire election year schedule until they can get a favorable ruling that will help them retain legislative power.

Led by Republican attorney Phil Strach, the Republican argument was the special master redrew certain districts with race in mind, contrary to what they believe the judicial panel originally wanted.

“The way you remedy the use of a quota is you take the quota out,” attorney Strach told the court.

Strach added that Persily was never needed because GOP lawmakers were fully capable of redrawing their own maps, and should have been given the opportunity to do so by the federal court.

Strach even called their own expert witness, who submitted his own maps, to the stand to testify that Persily used black voting age percentages in the districts he redrew. The special master denied the charge.

Persily, a Stanford University law professor and considered an expert in redistricting mapping, defended his work saying that his job was to follow the directives of the three-judge panel to correct nine N.C. House and Senate districts, making sure that there was no racial stacking and packing, which the Republicans had previously employed.

Federal Appellate Court Judge James Wynn chastised Strach and the Republican attorneys, alleging that instead of working to undermine Persily’s work, they could have had their expert work with him to produce maps both sides could live with.

Attorneys for Sharon Covington and her co-plaintiffs suing the state gave a rhetorical thumbs up to Persily’s work, and urged the court to adopt his redrawn maps.

“I think they’ve been pretty honest that they intend to seek appellate review,” plaintiff’s attorney Allison Riggs told reporters after the four-hour hearing. “So we’ll be prepared.” 

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Cash Michaels

Cash Michaels

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