North Carolina GOP pushes back on redistricting allegations

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
State Senators Dan Soucek

RALEIGH — Attorneys for North Carolina Republican lawmakers pushed back hard in state court on Monday over accusations the legislators misled federal judges in an earlier redistricting lawsuit.

Republican legislative leaders filed a response to a motion from attorneys for Common Cause, the state Democratic Party and Democratic voters now suing GOP legislators in a separate partisan legislative redistricting case. The lawsuit trial is scheduled for next month.

A major pretrial issue is the documents the plaintiffs subpoenaed from the computer files of the late GOP mapmaker Thomas Hofeller.

Some of the plaintiffs’ lawyers have alleged Hofeller’s records will show Republican legislators deceived a panel of federal judges about whether they could redraw new House and Senate lines for the 2017 elections. The GOP lawmakers’ lawyers wrote that the plaintiffs have “rendered baseless accusations” that are “based on percentages and inferences that are entirely indefensible.”

New lines had been required after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower federal court ruling that found nearly 30 legislative districts had been drawn earlier this decade with excessive racial bias. The panel of three federal judges ultimately ordered new General Assembly maps that, while drawn in August 2017, wouldn’t be used until the regular 2018 election.

Lawyers for the GOP legislators reiterated Monday that the plaintiffs’ lawyers are misusing those records and question whether they received them in a proper manner. Hofeller’s estranged daughter told Common Cause North Carolina about his files, leading its lawyers to subpoena them.

“The court should conduct a hearing to investigate the conduct of plaintiffs and their counsel and issue any appropriate remedy to protect the rights of third parties and the integrity of this proceeding,” lawyers Phil Strach and Mark Braden wrote.

During the federal case, the GOP legislators had told those judges they had not had time to prepare maps for a special 2017 election. But plaintiff’s lawyer Stanton Jones wrote this month that Hofeller’s files would show he had developed numerous draft maps since August 2016. He provided no evidence from those files in the June 5 letter.

Strach and Braden wrote the plaintiffs have “zero support” that the GOP legislators committed wrongdoing, and “their accusations of misconduct are reckless.” Besides, they wrote, the current lawsuit is about whether the lines drawn in August 2017 violated the state constitution, “not whether statements in a different case were true.”

Common Cause North Carolina Executive Director Bob Phillips said late Monday the plaintiffs’ lawyers were reviewing the lawmakers’ filing in Wake County Superior Court.

Documents from Hofeller’s files — over 75,000 files from more than 20 hard drives or thumb drives were obtained by the plaintiffs — have surfaced in other courtrooms recently.

Late last week, voting rights activists in a federal court case in Maryland cited 2015 correspondence between Hofeller and a current Census Bureau in alleging discrimination motivated efforts by President Donald Trump’s administration to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. The U.S. Supreme Court could rule on the citizenship question any day.

“Plaintiffs are using this proceeding as a platform for baseless political invective,” Strach and Braden wrote Monday in suggesting the state judges, as they have in other similar cases, could order documents be destroyed and disqualify lawyers who participate in misconduct.