RALEIGH, North Carolina — Attorneys in North Carolina's redistricting lawsuits will return to court early next month because a three-judge panel wants to hear more evidence before deciding on the legality of boundaries drawn by Republican legislators.
The Superior Court judges announced Monday they'll hold a trial June 4 and 5 to hear from witnesses and review documents. The judges — Paul Ridgeway of Wake County, Joseph Crosswhite of Iredell County and Alma Hinton of Halifax County — said they want to focus solely on two issues in the hearing related to race.
One issue is whether drawing majority-black districts was a reasonable remedy for racially polarized voting by legislative mapmakers to avoid challenges under the Voting Rights Act. They also want to examine whether race was the predominant factor in forming six districts. Those six districts include two each for the state House, state Senate and Congress.
The judges already have received thousands of documents and heard two days of arguments in February on some motions to dismiss the lawsuits filed by Democratic voters and civil rights and election advocacy groups and other motions to declare the maps unconstitutional.
The three wrote Monday they they'll take the February arguments on the motions under advisement pending the trial on the specific issues. The judges telegraphed an additional hearing last week during a meeting with case attorneys at the Wake County courthouse.
The 2011 maps already were used in last year's legislative and congressional elections. Those who sued allege the boundaries illegally packed black voters into sprawling districts, split voting precincts and failed to keep whole counties within districts. Attorneys for legislative leaders and the state Attorney General's Office said the maps are lawful.
The judges want to focus on the use of race in drawing Senate Districts 31 and 32 in Yadkin and Forsyth counties; House Districts 51 and 54 in Lee and Chatham counties; and the 4th Congressional District in the eastern Piedmont and 12th District stretching from Charlotte to Winston-Salem and Greensboro.
Lawyers defending the maps say race wasn't the predominant factor in drawing these boundaries, but rather incumbent protection and partisan advantage, among other reasons.