The voters who convinced a three-judge panel that two of North Carolina's congressional districts were racial gerrymanders contend in a court document filed late Monday that new maps drawn in February are no better.
Attorneys for David Harris of Durham and Christine Bowser of Mecklenburg County asked the three-judge panel to reject the new maps drawn last month as "a blatant, unapologetic partisan gerrymander" that provides no legal remedy to the 2011 maps that were struck down Feb. 5.
Many are watching the latter case as one that could test the limits of drawing districts for partisan advantage — something courts have allowed, to an extent.
In their 40-page filing, the challengers contend the North Carolina districts go well beyond what previous rulings have allowed. They also argue that legislators drew maps that intentionally limit minority representation.
"Even if the remedial plan were not deemed an outright racial gerrymander like its predecessor, it is only because the General Assembly has stumbled out of the frying pan and into the fire," the challengers said in the document, filed at 10:30 p.m. Monday. "Having misinterpreted the jurisprudence regarding the use of race in redistricting, the General Assembly also grossly misinterprets the law governing partisan gerrymandering."
The challengers argue that for more than three decades the U.S. Supreme Court "has explicitly recognized that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional" and cited a recent Arizona case.
In that case, the justices ruled 5-4 last summer that voters, concerned that partisan gerrymandering was creating unfair elections, were entitled to give an independent commission the role of drawing congressional districts.
Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Harnett County who helped shepherd the 2011 maps and February redesigns through the General Assembly, said many times last month that race was not considered at all when the 13 congressional districts were redrawn as a remedy.
The maps, Lewis said, were drawn to give Republicans a 10-3 advantage in the state's congressional delegation.
"Told it could not pack African-American voters into two districts, it instead scattered them to the winds," attorneys for the map challengers said in their filing.
Though the map challengers acknowledge that the country's highest court has not yet developed a "single, overarching framework" for claims of partisan gerrymandering, they suggest that the three-judge panel in North Carolina need not worry about that.
The challengers argue that maps drawn and approved by legislators Feb. 19 were "an intentional manipulation of district lines for the purpose of disadvantaging and drowning out more than half of the electorate because of those citizens' political views."
A process that results in legislators "choosing their voters," not "voters choosing their representatives," is not compatible with democratic principles, they contend.
The state will have until next week to respond. A hearing is set for March 11, with the judges hoping to have a ruling by March 18.
Last month, when drawing new maps for North Carolina's 13 congressional districts, the legislature also changed the primary election date for congressional races.
Under that plan, the candidate filing period opens March 16 and the elections for congressional races only are set for June 7.
March 15 remains the primary election date for other partisan races in North Carolina.