RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Republican legislative leaders balked again Friday at having an outside expert redraw some House and Senate district boundaries and argued lines approved over the summer by the General Assembly should stay untouched for next year’s elections.
Federal judges directed a special master to come up with new lines by Dec. 1 in some targeted areas of the state where they’ve suggested problems with racial bias and state constitutional violations may still reside.
But as with maps they first approved in 2011, the three-judge panel hasn’t yet formally struck down specific districts that lawmakers remade in 2017. Instead, the judges asked Stanford University law professor Nathaniel Persily to come up with proposed changes for review before they rule. Candidate filing begins in mid-February.
Earlier this week, Persily unveiled his ideas that altered about two dozen districts and asked for any formal objections by Friday.
Voters who initially sued over the 2011 maps told Persily on Friday that they support his remapping, with a few changes recommended. The plaintiffs “have concluded that the plan does remedy the constitutional flaws in the legislature’s 2017 enacted plan,” attorneys Allison Riggs and Eddie Speas wrote.
Phil Strach, an attorney for the GOP, returned to previous arguments that it was wrong to bring in Persily when there’s been no official order or explanation from the judges about why certain districts approved in August still fall short.
“Judges do not issue provisional sentences before a defendant is found guilty,” Strach wrote. “Juries do not make provisional damages awards before adjudicating liability; and courts do not craft provisional remedies before finding a constitutional violation.”
Even if the judges do strike down boundaries, Strach said, the GOP-controlled legislature should first be given another chance to fix the problems. The court already has said the legislators are “not entitled to multiple opportunities to remedy its unconstitutional districts.”
Persily wrote Monday that his draft maps sought to remove residual racial bias or predominance in four districts cited by the court in and around Greensboro, Fayetteville and a few eastern counties. He also retooled several districts in Wake and Mecklenburg counties because the judges are worried five were unnecessarily redrawn in August, a potential violation of the state constitution.
Strach wrote that the judges and Persily lack jurisdiction to consider the state constitutional claim and that Persily is improperly engaged in “racial sorting” by redrawing districts so their black voting-age populations are reduced. Lawmakers said they used no racial data in forming their latest statewide maps.
The process under which the special master is working “defies precedent, ignores state sovereignty, and imposes race-based redistricting on the state against its will,” Strach wrote.
Persily’s new districts also put pairs of lawmakers together in the same district several times, meaning they’d have to run against each other to return to the General Assembly in 2019. The judges have said Persily can make some adjustments to reduce the “double-bunking” of incumbents. Speas and Riggs told Persily on Friday how two pairings could be easily eliminated.
It’s unclear how the currently comfortable GOP majorities in the House and Senate would be affected by more map changes. The 2011 maps helped Republicans in subsequent elections expand and retain veto-proof majorities that made it easier for them to pass their agenda.