Two weeks after state lawmakers adopted new districts for electing General Assembly members, attorneys behind the lawsuit that forced the redrawing contend that 12 districts are either racial gerrymanders or violate the state Constitution.
The challengers contend in a legal brief that legislators failed to correct racial gerrymanders in a Senate district in Cumberland and Hoke counties, a Senate district in Guilford County and a House district in the same county, and a House district in Wayne and Sampson counties.
They also argue that eight districts were drawn unnecessarily in the middle of the decade, including five districts in Wake and Mecklenburg counties. That, the challengers say, violates the state Constitution, which calls for lines to be tweaked every decade to reflect changes in the population related to the census.
“We are asking the court to step up and do what the legislature has continually failed to do — give North Carolinians fair districts that do not discriminate or violate the state constitution,” Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said in a statement on Friday.
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Earls noted that she raised her concerns with lawmakers before the maps were adopted on Aug. 30, but no steps were taken to change the districts.
“It is now the court’s responsibility to fix the problem,” Earls said.
The new district lines were drawn by lawmakers after the federal judges gave them a deadline of Sept. 1 to correct maps that included 28 unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The maps have been used since the 2012 elections.
Republicans dominate both chambers of the General Assembly, holding 74 of the 120 House seats and 35 of the 50 Senate seats. Their numbers allow them to override vetoes by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has already vetoed 11 bills this year.
According to a News & Observer analysis, just 10 of the 50 new Senate districts and 19 of the 120 new House districts would have been competitive in the 2016 elections.
The lawmakers have a week to respond to challengers’ claims.
Senate leader Phil Berger gave a speech on the state Senate floor arguing that the maps adopted in August were not partisan gerrymanders, as Democrats have alleged.
Berger said Democrats should focus on their party platform instead of the partisan tilt of legislative districts.
“If you’re going to be competitive across the state, you’re going to have to bring back the traditional North Carolina Democrat,” Berger said.
After the lawmakers provide their response to the documents submitted to federal court on Friday, the case will go to the judges – Catherine Eagles, a Barack Obama appointee to the Middle District of North Carolina, James Wynn, an Obama appointee to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Thomas Schroeder, a George W. Bush appointee in the Middle District.
The challengers have asked the judges to order the lawmakers to fix the 12 districts they have highlighted or to assign the redistricting task to a “special master” selected by the court.
Others have filed “friend of the court” briefs making similar requests – the state NAACP, Democracy North Carolina, a voting rights organization, and the League of Women Voters in NC, which has filed a lawsuit accusing the lawmakers of extreme partisan gerrymandering.
In their briefs, the organizations contended that public hearings related to the maps left the public out. Speakers at sites around the state repeatedly labeled the process as “a farce,” “inexcusable” and “shameful,” a brief filed by Democracy North Carolina and the League of Women Voters states.
They mentioned technical troubles with the audio-visual systems at the sites, most of which drew overcapacity crowds.
The groups quoted John Haywood, a speaker at Beaufort County Community College, who said, “(A) hearing three days after the maps have been released and a day after the data is released is just ridiculous.”
“I think it was totally disrespectful for us to be here at 4 p.m. in a room this small,” Pam Woods said at the Beaufort location. “It can’t be a public meeting if the public can’t get here.”
The state NAACP urged the judges to take over the redistricting process.
“The law is clear that once a legislative body fails to produce legally acceptable remedial plans, the court should move forward with implementing a remedy, rather than providing the legislature with multiple opportunities to get it right,” the NAACP document states. “This is doubly justified in this case where the General Assembly has consistently sought to delay the redistricting process and avoid remedying its egregious racial gerrymander.”
Note: A previous version of this story misnamed the voting-rights organization joining the League of Women Voters in a legal brief. The group is Democracy North Carolina, not Democracy Now.