RALEIGH — Democrats, the state NAACP and other groups suing over the legislature’s redistricting plans learned Monday that the state Supreme Court has rejected their request that Justice Paul Newby recuse himself from participating in the case.
The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, said the groups were disappointed by the decision, but believe they will win the larger case.
“We believe we have a strong case against the current redistricting plans,” Barber said. “If it’s heard fairly, based on the law and not on any other outside influence, we believe we will be successful on the merits.”
The groups are suing over legislative and congressional redistricting plans in effect for the first time this year, saying they improperly limit black voters’ influence. As part of their suit, Democrats and civil rights groups want to get email and other documents from the private lawyers who were paid with taxpayer money to help Republicans in the legislature prepare the redistricting plans. A three-judge panel hearing the redistricting case agreed the groups suing should have the information, but legislative leaders appealed.
Democrats and the civil rights groups requested Newby not participate in the decision because of a string of political donations they say link people and organizations that helped draw the new districts to independent campaign spending for Newby.
In their November court filing, the NAACP and the other groups link contributions from the Washington-based Republican State Leadership Committee to the N.C. Judicial Coalition, which spent $1.9 million airing television ads supporting Newby. The redistricting consultant for the Republican State Leadership Committee was the “chief architect” of the redistricting maps, and received help from the redistricting counsel for the RNC, according to the motion.
Newby, the incumbent, beat challenger Sam J. Ervin IV 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent. Judicial races are nonpartisan, but Newby is a registered Republican and appeared at a Republican rally with Pat McCrory and other Republican candidates while campaigning.
Art Pope, a wealthy Raleigh businessman and former legislator, worked with Republican lawyer Thomas Farr as counsel to the legislature’s redistricting committee chairmen, the motion says.
The Pope Foundation funds the Civitas Institute, which the motion alleges spent on radio and newspaper ads related to the Newby election.
But Francis De Luca, president of the Civitas Institute, said it was a separate entity, Civitas Action, that funded the Newby ads. He said Civitas Action received no money from any group associated with Pope for the ads.
Pope is also on the Americans for Prosperity board, which spent at least $225,000 on mail about Newby. Pope’s company contributed at least $150,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee.
Dallas Woodhouse, Americans for Prosperity state director, said Monday that the court made the right decision rejecting the recusal request.
“The best I can ever tell, recusals were meant for direct conflicts of interest,” he said. “I don’t believe there was one here.”
Getting a justice removed because of independent expenditures on his behalf would set “a horrible precedent,” Woodhouse said, and would soon backfire. Outside groups would have a reason to contribute to independent campaigns for judges they wanted removed from cases, he said.
“It would have opened the judiciary to complete control by outside interests,” Woodhouse said. “We would use it to our advantage.”