Will the North Carolina Supreme Court overturn the voting cards? The final decision is coming
RALEIGH, NC (WGHP) — Arguments about voter maps presented in the North Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday generally boiled down to two specific questions: How do we define acceptable political gerrymandering? And if the court were to create this definition, would it act legislatively or even politically?
For just over 90 minutes in a virtual hearing, attorneys for the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, the Harper Plaintiffs Group and Common Cause called on the judges to do just that: identify partisan gerrymandering and throw the maps adopted in November by the General Assembly.
The lawyers for the defendants in this case – the legislator – countered that the definition is not found anywhere in the constitution and that the court should not participate in making this decision and thus become a political entity.
When the judges might rule is uncertain, but they are expected to act quickly. When they delayed the filing of nominations and the primary election in December, the justices created the window to decide the lawsuits over the voting cards. Currently, filing is expected to begin in late February, with primary elections on May 17.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs continually quoted words from the case they were appealing: a ruling in early January by a 3-judge Wake County Superior Court panel that there was extreme political gerrymandering in many congressional and legislative districts, but that the state constitution was not. define what are the limits of using political data to determine the electoral districts that would favor the party in power.
The plaintiffs say the maps intentionally extend the GOP advantage in the U.S. House from 8-5 to 10-4 or even 11-3 — there’s a 14th district added by the census — and cement the control at the General Assembly. Lawmakers and their lawyers say they didn’t use partisan or racial data to draw the maps and that their work was the most transparent in history.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys were questioned more intensely by Chief Justice Paul Newby, a Republican, and the legislative attorneys drew more questions from the court’s four Democratic associate justices: Sam Ervin IV, Anita Earls, Robin Hudson and Michael Morgan. Associate Justices Phil Berger Jr. and Tamara Barringer, both Republicans, did not ask questions during the hearing, which was televised on the court’s YouTube channel.
“The three cards are an extreme violation of the fundamental rights of all North Carolina residents,” said Stanton Jones, representing the Harper Group, who was the first person to address the judges.
Most of the plaintiffs’ support for this claim has focused on the various passages of the 3-judge panel’s written decision, which ran for hundreds of pages. The panel identified specific districts that it considered extreme cases. Lawyers also referred to the testimony of expert analysts, and those on both sides used the words of other experts to support their own arguments.
The panel of 3 judges wrote in particular that “declaring unconstitutional an act of the branch of government which represents the people is a task which should not be taken lightly. There is a strong presumption that laws of the General Assembly conform to the Constitution.
And that became the final question of Wednesday’s proceedings: If judges were to define extreme partisan gerrymandering, where are they acting politically and actually undermining the court’s reputation as an independent arbiter of the law?
Newby hammered Jones and Zach Schiff, the NCLCV’s argument, on issues of proportionality. Should the allocation of representation correspond to the distribution of voters? They said no.
“That’s not our argument,” Schiff told him. “The will of the people is the principle. The majority of representatives must be elected by the majority of the people. I do not find this principle in these cards.
Allison Riggs, representing Common Cause, said: “These cards discriminate against voters who prefer Democratic candidates.
Draw the line
Their arguments continually referred to previous court cases that changed the maps and principles set out in those decisions. The role of computers as arbiters of human labor has also been beaten back and forth.
Republicans had argued — even campaigned — that Earls and Ervin should opt out of the proceedings — as Democrats had asked Berger to do — due to various conflicts of interest. None of the judges recused themselves, and it appeared during closing arguments by the defendants’ attorneys – Katharine McKnight and then Phil Strach – that Earls and Ervin disputed their arguments and plea. Morgan has also been active on these issues.
McKnight pointed out that the plaintiffs failed to show trial judges how to define what is permitted in political gerrymandering. “The trial court says nobody drew the line,” she said.
She also argued that even the analyzes and maps of various experts presented by the plaintiffs showed only a marginal effect on representation, “perhaps a seat on the maps of Congress, and in the House and in the Senate, they made little difference.”
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Earls asked McKnight if there was a “clear line” for standards the court might want to adopt. She said there are different ways to look at the standards of such demarcation.
McKnight countered, “The plaintiffs showed absolutely no extreme partisan outliers. I ask the court to find the definition of “extreme partisan gerrymandering” [in the constitution]. You won’t find it.
Strach, a veteran of such arguments in various states, has weighed in on whether the court should play a role in defining or limiting the scope of the general assembly in its constitutional role of drawing electoral maps. .
“If we believe [the court] can guess a standard that no appellate court has before, will it be a legislative standard? He asked. “The court is going to have to make decisions on the standards from scratch, as the legislator would.
“The court could say, ‘Legislators, this is how we would define the details. What elections could be used for this. … The court should tell lawmakers how to handle cracking and packing. Do you pack one district if you pack another?
“What is an acceptable card? What is “extreme” and what is “allowed”? … This tribunal should make political decisions.
Hudson asked, “Doesn’t the constitution allow us to consider the constitutionality of this?”
Strach pointed out that North Carolina’s constitution is vague on these issues. He cited states that introduced redistricting commissions — an idea that never made it past bills relegated to committees in North Carolina — or Florida where gerrymandering was defined in an amendment to the state constitution. ‘State.
“We weren’t close [to doing that] in North Carolina,” he said. “The court would do this for the people.”
The role of the court
Strach in his arguments also pointed out that computer models do not take into account the human factor. He mentioned state Senate districts for Guilford and Rockingham counties, which he said were drawn by Democrats and endorsed in the Senate by Democrats.
“The computers said they were partisan gerrymanders,” he said. “How can that be true? The computer didn’t know these maps were drawn by Democrats. … If you rely on simulations, you’re destined to cause more problems than you solve.
And then he kind of warned judges to set definitions and draw lines and define how lawmakers should act. He said there were people in the audience who were beginning to doubt the tribunal’s independence based on the fact that there had even been a call for those cards.
“Some groups think the court acts like a legislative body,” he said. “The court has an obligation to protect the reputation of the court. “Because of the existence of this case, people are convinced that the court is a partisan actor.”