Judge panel puts NC district map up for review by California professor

Eamon Queeney — North State Journal
Senator Michael Lee looks over maps during the first joint meeting of the Select Committee on Redistricting at the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh

RALEIGH – N.C. lawmakers reacted Thursday evening to a ruling from federal judges that sent the state’s legislative district maps to a California-based “special master” to examine and potentially redraw.

The three judge panel is hearing the case North Carolina versus Covington, a lawsuit over gerrnymandering.

“After careful review of the parties’ written submissions, arguments, and evidence, the Court is concerned that 2017 Enacted Senate Districts 21 and 28 and 2017 Enacted House Districts 21, 36, 37, 40, 41, 57, and 105 … either fail to remedy the identified constitutional violation or are otherwise legally unacceptable. In anticipation of the likely possibility of such a finding, in view of upcoming filing period for the 2018 election cycle, and upon consideration of the technical nature of determining an appropriate remedy when district lines are at issue, the Court finds exceptional circumstances and intends to appoint a Special Master pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 53. In general terms, the Court expects to direct the Special Master to assist the Court in further evaluating and, if necessary, redrawing the Subject Districts by developing an appropriate plan remedying the constitutional violations allegedly rendering the Subject Districts legally unacceptable,” the order read.

The judges appointed Nathaniel Persily of Stanford University’s James B McClatchy School of Law as the special master.  Persily earned a PhD and master’s degree at Berkley and a law degree at Stanford.  Persily performed a similar role in redistricting efforts in New York, Maryland and Georgia. He also served under the Obama Administration as the senior research director of the Presidential Commission for Election Administration (PCEA), sent up by the administration after the 2012 elections to make recommendations on elections policy changes.

Thursday’s order gives the parties in the lawsuit two days to respond or point out any conflict of interest that Persily may have.

North Carolina House Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) and Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell), chairmen of their respective chambers’ redistricting committees issued a statement following the panel’s order.

“Similar to this same federal court’s order for a special election in North Carolina that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed, this unusual and vague order provides absolutely no legal or factual basis for objecting to the new maps, while also potentially delegating the legislature’s constitutional authority to draw districts to a lone professor in California with no accountability to North Carolinians,” Hise and Lewis said in a joint statement.

“Being provided only two days to respond to such a strange order that could seize a fundamental right from the people of North Carolina and hand it to a single person on the other side of the country is an outrageous and extraordinary violation of the principles of federalism and our state’s sovereignty.”

The lawsuit North Carolina versus Covington claims that the states district maps  unconstitutionally took race into consideration in designing the districts.

“Race was not used at all as a factor in the drawing of these districts,” said Lewis and Hise on Thursday. “Further, these maps split fewer counties, towns and precincts than any map in recent North Carolina history. We are exploring all our legal options.”