RALEIGH — A pair of lawsuits challenging North Carolina's new Republican-penned boundaries for congressional and legislative seats can move forward, a three-judge panel said Monday.
The Superior Court judges refused to dismiss the lawsuits, and threw out less than half of the 37 claims offered by attorneys for Democratic elected officials, civil rights groups, election-watchdog agencies and voters.
Lawyers for the state and legislative leaders had wanted the lawsuits thrown out.
The crux of the argument within the consolidated lawsuits remains intact. Plaintiffs claim state or federal constitutions prohibit mapmakers from splitting voting precincts excessively, creating boundaries that fracture too many counties and gerrymandering based predominantly on racial considerations.
Lawsuits won't delay primary
Although the maps for the state House and Senate and for U.S. congressional districts will still be used for this year's May primary, the ruling means a significant portion of the case can move along to trial.
"We are pleased that the major claims in the lawsuit remain," Scott Falmlen, a spokesman for the Democratic elected officials and voters who sued, said in an emailed statement. "We look forward to the opportunity to fully prove the significant constitutional flaws in all three redistricting plans and the manner in which those plans violate the rights of all North Carolina citizens."
The judges declined on Jan. 20 to delay the May elections until July, deciding the extra two months still wouldn't leave enough time to fully resolve the case.
The judges gave no explanation for Monday's decision in their two-page ruling, but the refusal to dismiss the lawsuits wasn't surprising. Wake County Judge Paul Ridgeway said in court last month that "the careful consideration of the plaintiffs' arguments must go on, and this court will continue to balance these arguments against the thoughtful, serious and compelling arguments raised in defense of the plans."
Sen. Bob Rucho, the Mecklenburg Republican who chaired the Senate Redistricting Committee, said he thinks the remaining claims will be thrown out after evidence is collected and presented in court.
"We would expect our maps to be vindicated completely," he said.
Last month's ruling means candidate filing for the May 8 primary will begin on time Monday. Attorneys for the groups said neither would challenge the primary delay ruling.
Attorney Anita Earls said her clients, who include the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Democracy North Carolina, "are making plans to ensure that voters in split precincts in the May primary do not experience confusion or long lines."
Those challenging the maps argue that the 563 split precincts drawn by Republicans will make it hard for many living within them to vote and create two tiers of voters.
Attorneys defending the maps contend there's no constitutional right to undivided precincts, and point out the boundaries have been approved by U.S. Department of Justice attorneys based on a portion of the Voting Rights Act.
The judges let stand arguments that the map violated the state constitution's "whole county provision" and other clauses in the state and federal constitutions designed to prevent racial discrimination.