Barber calls map ruling ‘major victory’

Barber calls map ruling ‘major victory’
August 03
05:00 2017

The outgoing president of the N.C. NAACP is elated that the Republican-led legislature is being forced to redraw its unconstitutional legislative voting maps by Sept. 1.

“Forcing the legislature to redraw lines with mandatory court overview is a major victory,” Bishop William Barber II, said in a statement after a three-judge U.S. District court panel ruled Monday that the N.C. General Assembly had to redraw 28 of 170 legislative districts from the 2011 redistricting map  because of racial gerrymandering.

“[This is] more reason why the General Assembly should not pass anymore legislation because they are an unconstitutionally constituted racially created legislature that fundamentally violates our democratic principles.”

Indeed, the plaintiffs in Covington v. North Carolina were  certainly hoping that judges James Wynn and Catherine Eagles  (both Obama appointees), and Thomas Schroeder (a George W. Bush appointee) –  which heard arguments last week in Greensboro – would rule not only that the districts must be redrawn immediately, especially since state lawmakers are back in special session starting today, but that special elections would be held on March 6, 2018.

The judicial panel, however, decided against ordering a special election, saying that it was too late for it to be conducted prior to the regularly scheduled 2018 mid-term election in November of next year.

That’s exactly what Republican legislative leaders wanted, and most political analysts expected, even though plaintiffs made a strong argument for a special election to happen.

The GOP also wanted to wait until Nov. 15 to produce new redistricting maps, saying that they needed the extra time to hold public hearings, but the three-judge panel clearly wasn’t buying that argument during last week’s hearing.

“We agree with Plaintiffs that the General Assembly already has had ample time to enact a remedial redistricting plan,” stated judged Eagles, Wynn and Schroeder in their unanimous ruling Monday. “We also agree that constitutionally adequate districts should be enacted as quickly as possible to protect the rights of North Carolina citizens and to minimize any chilling effect on political participation attributable to the continued absence of a districting plan in the face of a finding of unconstitutional racial gerrymandering.”

Republican legislative leaders have one week after enacting the new maps to submit them to the court to review, along with any supporting documentation. Plaintiffs then have until Sept. 15 to file any challenges and objections to the remedied maps, and to submit they own redistricting plans.

State lawmakers say that even though 28 legislative districts have been ruled unconstitutional per the 2011 redistricting map, all 170 House and Senate districts may have to be redrawn in order to make sure that all of them are in compliance because of needed boundary adjustments.

Allison Riggs, senior attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represented plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement Monday, “The court’s decision affirms the urgency with which we must address this wrong committed against North Carolina voters.”

“Despite operating as an unconstitutional body, the General Assembly tried to delay redrawing maps until Nov. 15.  This prompt redrawing will allow North Carolinians to at least rest assured, knowing which districts they will be living in come the November 2018 elections, and that the federal court will be reviewing the remedial plans closely to ensure they’re legal.”

One thing was evident, however, during the three-hour federal court hearing last week – judges Wynn and Eagles made it clear they suspected GOP lawmakers were deliberately dragging their feet to remedy the matter in order to put potential Democratic challengers at a disadvantage prior to the 2018 elections.

“What concerns me is the seriousness at how this is being taken by the General Assembly,” Judge Wynn said. “This is serious.”

“We want to feel that you’re moving on this,” Wynn added, suggesting to Phillip Strach, attorney for the state, the defendants, that the court could appoint a special master to oversee redrawing the districts if Republican lawmakers dragged their feet further.

“You don’t seem serious,” Judge Eagles bluntly said to attorney Strach, who countered that just the day before GOP legislative leaders appointed a new redistricting committee in hopes to have new maps drawn by November.

Strach added that hearings across the state had to be held, and that’s why redrawing the districts couldn’t happen in just two weeks.

But a very skeptical Judge Eagles wasn’t buying it, snapping back that “… you’ve created this problem by not doing anything over the last year,” she said. “That’s the legislature’s fault.”

That three-judge federal panel ruled in August 2016 that the 2011 maps were unconstitutional because Republicans deliberately “stacked-and-packed,” or racially gerrymandered black Democratic voters in 28 counties in order to lessen their election influence.

Republican legislative leaders later appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, only to have the High Court affirm the ruling in June, but question whether holding special elections was appropriate, thus sending the case back to the lower court.

In their late ruling Monday evening, the three-judge panel also ordered that a one-year North Carolina residency requirement be waived for citizens to run in the November 2018 mid-term legislative elections.

N.C. GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse was not pleased with that part of the ruling, later tweeting, “Greatly concerned that three judge panel is nullifying the Constitutional residency requirements for General Assembly.”

A spokesperson for Senate Pro-tem President Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said GOP attorneys were still reviewing the ruling, so Berger would not have any comment at this time. There was also no response from Republican House Speaker Tim Moore’s office.

But Rep. Craig Meyer (D-Durham, Orange), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, tweeted that not having a special election was fine because it gave prospective Democratic candidates more time to prepare and raise funds for the 2018 elections.

In fact, Meyer sent out a fundraising letter Monday evening saying in part, “When Republicans unconstitutionally gerrymandered legislative maps in 2011, they gave themselves an unprecedented advantage in every election since and you’ve seen the damage they have done with their majority. New maps will wipe that advantage away and help us break the majority.”

N.C. NAACP’s Barber further blasted the GOP, saying that power, for them, is the name of the game.

“The sad truth … that must be tied is [Republican legislative leaders] used racist tactics to get power and then used that power to deny health care, living wages, rights for the LGBTQ community, etc., which meant the people hurt the most in raw numbers were the poor and working poor whites.”

The House Redistricting Committee is scheduled to meet again on Friday.

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Cash Michaels

Cash Michaels

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