A panel of three federal judges delivered a welcome but frustrating ruling Thursday. The judges unanimously found that 28 of North Carolina’s 170 legislative districts were illegally drawn to concentrate black voters in a way that minimized their statewide political influence.
U.S. Circuit Judge James Wynn wrote in the panel’s ruling that “... plaintiffs, and thousands of other North Carolina citizens, have suffered severe constitutional harms” from districts that were improperly drawn to bolster Republican control of the General Assembly.
But the court also said the Nov. 8 election is too close to change the maps and that changes would have to be made afterward.
Thus Republicans lawmakers again lost profoundly in court and again will win unfairly at the polls. The court ruling, if it stands a likely appeal to the Supreme Court, means that North Carolina’s General Assembly after November will have been elected three times based on illegal maps drawn in 2011. And this from the party supposedly intent on protecting the integrity of the voting process.
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For this third election based on unconstitutional maps, North Carolinians can thank the Republican-controlled state Supreme Court. The state’s highest court not once, but twice upheld the legality of the legislative maps. Had the court reached the same conclusion as the three federal judges – including Thomas Schroeder, a George W. Bush appointee – North Carolina would have had time to hold legislative elections based on legal maps.
Race and political party can be factors in drawing districts, which is done by the party in power after every census, but when race is weighed excessively, illegal gerrymandering is the result. Thursday’s ruling covering 19 House and nine Senate districts follows a ruling by another set of federal judges who found illegal racial gerrymandering in two of the state’s congressional districts. The General Assembly had to redraw all 13 congressional districts to comply with the ruling. The result was a delay in primaries. Republican state leaders have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in the congressional case.
The new congressional and legislative lines were drawn by a Republican veteran consultant, Thomas Hofeller, and as the 4th Circuit judges wrote, only he and state Sen. Bob Rucho and state Rep. David Lewis seemed to have any role in redistricting lines.
The voters will go to the polls again in November, and again they’ll have the chance, albeit an unfair one, to boot the people from office who created this havoc.