County blacks affected by GOP redistricting plan

County blacks affected by GOP redistricting plan
November 16
07:00 2017

During the third Special Session of the NC General Assembly last month, the Republican-led House passed HB 717 – a bill to redraw all judicial districts across the state. Sponsored by Republican lawmaker Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly), who claims that his only goal is to make judicial elections fairer, the law will radically change the way District Court judges are currently elected.

But according to many judicial analysts, Burr’s plan not only seeks to get more Republicans elected to the bench statewide, but specifically targets District Court judges of color.

As reported by The Chronicle in October, Isela Gutierrez, associate research director with the non-partisan, nonprofit Democracy North Carolina, charged that judicial redistricting isn’t just about getting more Republican district and superior court judges elected to the bench, but, just as with legislative and congressional redistricting, lessen the influence of black voters in overall elections.

With the passage of HB 717, there was also a new judicial redistricting map that Gutierrez alleged takes resources and important programs, like alternatives for incarceration for many people, away from large black communities in Durham, Mecklenburg, Forsyth, Guilford, Northhampton, Granville and Robeson counties. Judges will be taken from these areas, and they will be moved to white communities.

Plus, 32 percent of all District Court judges will be double-bunked, meaning that when elections are held in 2018, two judges – mostly Democrats – will have to run against each other in their respective districts. Fifty-three percent of black judges are District Court judges.

Now one month later, Gutierrez further expanded on her analysis, this time, at the request of The Chronicle, focusing exclusively on what will happen to judges in Forsyth County.

“It would add a District Court judge, and likely change the partisan make-up of Forsyth’s District Court judges (in District 21) from what is currently a pretty balanced five Republicans and six Democrats, to a dramatically-skewed nine Republicans and three Democrats (this number includes the additional District Court judge),” Gutierrez told The Chronicle Monday. “As you know, that kind of dramatic skewing doesn’t accurately reflect the county’s demographics and political leanings; the current make-up is a much better approximation.”

Gutierrez continued, “There are currently two black District Court judges [Denise S. Hartsfield and Camille Banks-Prince], one  “Undesignated” [Theodore Kasakos], and eight white District Court judges in Forsyth. It appears that all incumbent non-white judges would be double-bunked with other incumbents, which is not the case for all the white incumbents.”

“Under these maps, Kazokos and Hartsfield would be paired with white Democratic judges and up for election in 2018. Banks-Prince would be paired with a white Democrat for 2020 election,” Gutierrez concluded.

“In Superior Court [Judicial District 5], the incumbents are not double-bunked,” Gutierrez says. “Each of the four judges would stay in their own districts.”

“They’re going to eliminate a lot of African-American judges [across the state], “ Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy NC insisted last month when interviewed by The Chronicle.

“It’s a conspiracy on a number of levels,” Hall continued. “They’re trying to find a way to elect more Republican judges; a conspiracy against African-American judges who have gained more stature and seniority; and it’s a conspiracy against the people who are served by the courts.”

“This thing is a mess,” opined Sen. Paul Lowe Jr. (D-Forsyth) to The Chronicle last month.  “It sounds like the real goal is to shift things in the urban areas, pretty much guaranteeing that the number of African-American judges will go down dramatically – whether they’re intending that or not.”

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Cash Michaels

Cash Michaels

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