Redistricting Committee chairs call out Persily maps

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. House Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) and Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell), chairmen of the redistricting committees, responded Friday to the proposed maps from “special master” Nathaniel Persily of Stanford University, calling the updates “thinly veiled political operation” designed to give Democrats an electoral advantage.

Persily was appointed by the federal three-judge panel hearing the Covington vs. North Carolina case, in which plaintiffs claim that the state’s new legislative maps were still in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Persily redrew the state’s legislative district maps to incorporate what Republicans say are most of the Democrat plaintiffs’ requested changes. His maps make boundary changes to the ones passed by lawmakers in 2017, which they say already corrected gerrymandering concerns.

Without issuing a formal ruling on the maps, judges said in October that it was “likely” that the legislature’s new maps still wouldn’t pass constitutional muster. They tapped Persily to review them or give them another version. He elected to redraw them, and Republican lawmakers say the result was a partisan map giving Democrats an edge.

“By making many changes Democrats demanded, Mr. Persily has confirmed our worst suspicions: this entire ‘judicial process’ is little more than a thinly veiled political operation where unelected judges, legislating from the bench, strip North Carolinians of their constitutional right to self-governance by appointing a left-wing California professor to draw districts handing Democrats control of legislative seats they couldn’t win at the ballot box,” said Lewis and Hise.

Lawmakers had remained largely quiet on Persily’s involvement, except to say that they believed it was a partisan move and that the federal judges could not hand over N.C.’s right to draw its own maps to a California-based professor. Persily served as a special master for redistricting plans in New York, Connecticut, Georgia and Maryland, and served on a special elections reform committee appointed by former President Barack Obama following the 2014 elections.

N.C. Senate Democratic Caucus Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake) disagreed, saying he hopes a “legitimate” legislative body will be elected in 2018.

“The maps submitted to the three-judge panel are the biggest step forward for North Carolinians in the past six years.” he said. “We are less concerned with political wins at this juncture. What the people need is reassurance that they have the opportunity to fairly choose their legislators. Mr. Persily was successful in delivering a win to voters that Republicans have been unwilling to provide over the past several years.”

Legislative Republicans argue districts drawn and approved by the General Assembly should remain in place, and Nathaniel Persily’s involvement is unwarranted when there’s been no order or explanation from the court that anything is wrong with their maps.