NC judges reject demands to block elections under new cards


(Photo: USAF / Joshua Magbanua)

RALEIGH, NC (AP) – The 2022 North Carolina election according to new legislative and congressional maps may begin as scheduled next week after state judges on Friday dismissed requests from prosecutors who claim that the lines must be blocked because they blatantly favor Republicans.

The refusal of a three-judge panel to issue preliminary injunctions against the boundaries drawn and approved by GOP majorities at the General Assembly last month means that candidates for the March 8 primary are expected to start at noon on Monday.

One of the lawsuits, filed by the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, mathematicians and voters, challenges both legislative and congressional cards. The other, tabled by voters backed by a group affiliated with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, focuses solely on the United States House map of the state. Judges said there was reasonable doubt whether the lines violated the state’s constitution.

Complainants can ask the Court of Appeals or the state Supreme Court to review the decision – something at least one group of plaintiffs said on Friday night they were already considering. The decisions do not completely dismiss the lawsuits that were the basis of these claims heard by the Wake County court.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuits call the lines “extreme partisan gerrymanders” who put Republicans in the driver’s seat to retain their majorities in the State House and Senate and win 10 of 14 US House seats, even though North Carolina is seen as very divided in statewide elections. Republicans currently hold eight of 13 seats – North Carolina gets an additional seat due to population growth.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued in part that the latest batch of lines, drawn using the 2020 census figures, largely follows the GOP lawmakers’ playbook used when they redesigned and approved the districts. Congress in 2016 and legislative maps in 2017.

In 2019, another three-judge panel blocked those cards, saying the GOP had used extreme political manipulation to ensure it could hold majorities in almost any political environment. The same is true today, according to Elisabeth Theodore, a Washington-based lawyer also involved in the 2019 litigation.

At Friday’s panel hearing, Zach Schauf, an attorney representing plaintiffs in the League of Conservation Voters lawsuit, noted that “when you take the whole state and you systematically structure the cards in such a way that one party remains in control … then this is the mark of a partisan gerrymander that is incompatible with the constitution of North Carolina. “

Superior Court Judge Graham Shirley, however, questioned whether a true standard had been set for “extreme partisan gerrymandering”. He pointed to a provision in a landmark state Supreme Court redistribution decision in the early 2000s that the General Assembly “may consider partisan advantage” in the design of districts.

“Given the inherent political nature of the redistribution, we cannot read this provision … as narrowly as the complainant would like us to do,” Shirley said, denying the injunctions. “We have a reasonable doubt on these facts as to whether these acts of the General Assembly are unconstitutional.” Superior Court Judge Nathaniel Poovey and Dawn Layton joined in the decision.

Lawyers for the GOP legislative leaders who were sued said the boundaries were legal, created through a mapping process in legislative committee rooms that was broadcast live for weeks. Lawmakers have approved redistribution rules prohibiting the use of political data in mapping software.

“Lawmakers drew these maps for public view in the most transparent process in history,” said Senate Redistribution Committee co-chair Senator Paul Newton, a Cabarrus County Republican, after the hearing. “We are of course delighted that the court has upheld this process and now we can all move forward.”

Lawyer Phil Strach, one of the Republicans’ outside lawyers, lambasted mathematicians working with plaintiffs who argue their calculations show GOP lines can only be traced to partisan manipulation, calling it “them. black box math ”which ignored the fact that voters decide elections.

League of Conservation Voters executive director Carrie Clark stressed that Shirley said the panel’s decision should not be interpreted as tolerating extreme partisan gerrymandering.

“The people of North Carolina deserve fair cards, and we will continue our fight to protect the voting rights of millions of North Carolina citizens,” Clark said in a press release.


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