State lawmakers defended their new congressional districts in a response submitted Monday evening to a three-judge federal court panel.
In a 40-page document, Alexander McC. Peters, senior deputy attorney general for North Carolina, and Thomas Farr, a private Raleigh attorney representing legislators, contended that the General Assembly “scrupulously followed” the federal court’s Feb. 5 order that struck down the 1st and 12th congressional districts as racial gerrymanders.
“The new plan is not a gerrymander of any type: the map speaks for itself,” Peters and Farr argued in their document filed at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
The response from the legislators sets the stage for a hearing later this week in which the three federal court judges will consider congressional maps drawn, according to Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, to give Republicans a 10 to 3 partisan advantage for U.S. congressional seats.
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The voters who convinced the federal court judges that the 1st and 12th districts were racial gerrymanders argued last week that the new maps were no better. They described them as blatant political gerrymanders that they contend are also unconstitutional.
“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 a document filed last week in the case. “Having misinterpreted the jurisprudence regarding the use of race in redistricting, the General Assembly also grossly misinterprets the law governing partisan gerrymandering.”
The case is being watched as one that could test the limits of drawing districts for partisan advantage — something courts have allowed to an extent.
The lawmakers who led the remapping last month argue that their plans leave more counties whole than in previous decades and split only 12 voting districts. They also contend that the argument about partisan advantage is not within the purview of the three-judge panel.
“Even if the court had jurisdiction to consider these new claims (which it does not) any such claims are frivolous,” the attorneys for the lawmakers stated.
The federal panel declared the 1st and 12th districts to be unconstitutional gerrymanders that packed black voters into districts to weaken their overall influence.
In a schedule filed in the case, the judges stated that they hoped to have a ruling on the new districts 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.