Judges rule legislative district map unconstitutional

2011 maps will stay in place for the November elections but must change in 2017.

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
Sen. Bob Rucho reviews a newly printed map during the Senate Redistricting Committee for the 2016 Extra Session in the Legislative Office Building at the N.C. General Assembly on Thursday

RALEIGH — November elections will move forward under the state Senate and House legislative district map drawn in 2011, but it must be redrawn during the next legislative session. This in a decision handed down Thursday from a three-judge federal panel of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. The judges said that 28 of the 120 state districts were unconstitutionally drawn using racial gerrymandering, but said that they did not find that there was any evidence of political motivation for the district lines, rather they said that the lines appear to be a part of an effort by legislators to fully comply with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. “Because Defendants have failed to demonstrate that their predominant use of race was reasonably necessary to further a compelling state interest, the twenty-eight challenged districts in North Carolina’s 2011 State House and Senate redistricting plans constitute racial gerrymanders in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. We therefore must order that new maps be drawn,” the 167-page ruling stated. “In reaching this conclusion, we make no finding that the General Assembly acted in bad faith or with discriminatory intent in drawing the challenged districts, which were precleared by the Justice Department pursuant to Section 5 of the VRA. Nor do we consider whether the challenged districts involved any impermissible ‘packing’ of minority voters, as Plaintiffs acknowledge that they bring no such claim,” the judges added. The decision was signed by Justice James Wynn, a United States Circuit Judge appointed by President Obama. The other two judges on the decision are Judge Thomas D. Schroeder, a Bush Jr. appointee, and Catherine Eagles, an Obama appointee.”We are disappointed in the district court’s opinion, which contradicts the Obama Justice Department’s preclearance of these maps and rulings from the N.C. Supreme Court upholding them as constitutional. However, we are relieved for voters that the district court did not disrupt the current election that is already underway. Our attorneys are currently reviewing today’s ruling and evaluating next steps,” said Sen. Bob Rucho and Rep. David Lewis, chairs of the General Assembly’s redistricting committee, in response to Thursday’s ruling.The judges determined that throwing out the map with less than ninety days to go before the election would create too much confusion, so they ordered the redraw to begin in 2017. A redrawn district map is required under federal law every ten years after the census. The next census is scheduled for 2020.