Court appointed map drawer submits new district proposal

Lawmakers and plaintiffs have until Friday to respond.

Representative David Lewis fields questions from across the aisle on the new redistricting map on the floor of the North Carolina House at the Legislative Building in Raleigh, Monday, August 28, 2017. (Eamon Queeney / North State Journal)

RALEIGH – On Monday, the Stanford professor appointed to review N.C.’s legislative district maps submitted a draft plan back to the court. Nathaniel Persily was tapped November 1 as a special master by a federal three judge panel and asked to deliver his review of the state’s maps by December 1.  The three judges in the case are Catherine Eagles and Thomas Schroeder of the U.S. Middle District of North Carolina, and James Wynn of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Persily’s appointment is part of the North Carolina versus Covington lawsuit over accusations of gerrymandering in the state’s legislative map-making.  He’s asked for lawmakers and plaintiffs in the suit to provide feedback and more data by Friday November 17, limiting their responses to 25,000 words. They will have a chance to reply to the other’s feedback by November 21, not to exceed 10,000 word briefs.

“These draft plans are provided at this early date to give the parties time to lodge objections and to make suggestions, as to unpairing incumbents or otherwise, that might be accommodated in the final plan to be delivered to the Court by December 1,” he wrote.

Persily is a professor at Stanford University’s James B. McClatchy School of Law.  He earned a PhD and master’s degree at Berkley and a law degree at Stanford.  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. He was similarly involved in redistricting efforts in New York, Maryland and Georgia.

In his response, Persily said he was trying to keep precincts together and avoid district lines that replicate the ones rejects by federal courts in 2011. He redrew several districts includes changes to Cumberland, Hoke, Sampson, Wayne and Guilford counties.  In the state’s most populated counties, Mecklenburg and Wake, the court had directed Persily to revert back to the 2011 district lines, claiming that they were changed illegally before the 10-year census driven schedule. However, Persily said that due to population changes in those counties, reverting to the 2011 district lines could only provide an outer frame within which he would have to create districts by population.

“For the most part, the configurations of the districts are determined by moving District 33 to the county border and then shifting the remaining interior districts clockwise until they achieve population equality,” he wrote. “By reinstating the 2011 districts, several precincts are now split that were not under the 2017 plan. However, the Special Master’s Draft Plan does not add any more split precincts and in, fact, recombines some precincts that were split with the 2011 or 2017 plan.”

In Cumberland county’s District 19, Persily takes the line north of Spring Lake, in an effort to keep precincts whole and eliminate a “jutting arm” into Fayetteville.  In Guilford county, the newly drawn district is contained almost completely within the city of Greensboro and does not split precincts. As a result, districts 24 and 27 become primarily Greensboro suburbs.

So far, lawmakers have not offered a new public comment on the draft, but after the judge appointed the special master, they called the order “unusual and vague.”

“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 on October 26.

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