Under the Dome

Stanford professor draws maps to correct NC gerrymanders. Now he wants feedback.

The Stanford University law professor tapped to draw maps for federal judges considering the constitutionality of election lines adopted in August by North Carolina lawmakers has released a draft plan.

Nathaniel Persily, selected less than two weeks ago to look at districts in Cumberland, Guilford, Hoke, Mecklenburg, Wake, Bladen, Sampson and Wayne counties adopted in August to elect General Assembly members in 2018, has asked for feedback from lawmakers and challengers of the 2017 maps.

Persily redrew state Senate district lines in Hoke and Cumberland counties to avoid what he called a “jutting arm into Fayetteville” supported by the Republican-led General Assembly, and to take in the whole town of Spring Lake to the north.

He redrew three Senate districts in Guilford County and House districts there as well. His map changes House districts in Bladen, Sampson and Wayne counties, as well as in Mecklenburg and Wake counties.

Persily ordered lawmakers and the challengers to submit proposed objections and revisions to the plans by Friday.

He asked for each side to include suggestions for how to draw the lines so that incumbent lawmakers put in the same districts by Persily, or “double-bunked,” could be in individual districts “without degrading the underlying features of the plan.”

Persily also asked each side to provide him with data by Tuesday that includes the addresses of General Assembly members who have not announced that they would not seek re-election.

Questions about Trudy Wade’s address

In response, the two sides provided address lists that differ in two places.

The challengers said Larry Bell, a Democrat who represents Duplin, Sampson and Wayne counties in the state House of Representatives, does not plan to seek re-election and should be excluded from the list submitted to the mapmaker. The attorneys for the challengers submitted a sworn statement to the three-judge panel from Bell, saying he was not running for the seat in the next election next year.

But attorneys for the lawmakers included Bell’s name, saying that while the challengers contend he is not running “because of media reports, legislative defendants contend that the veracity of media reports cited by plaintiffs has not been confirmed and Representative Bell has not announced to the House or its leadership that he is not running again in 2018, even as recently as the recent redistricting in August 2017.”

The other difference involves the home address for state Sen. Trudy Wade, a Guilford County Republican.

The challengers of the legislative maps asked the court to verify Wade’s address “because other members of the legislature have reported in sworn testimony in this case that Senator Wade has moved.”

Attorneys for the lawmakers disagree, “based on information provided to the legislature by Senator Wade.”

Republicans dominate both chambers of the General Assembly, holding 35 of the 50 Senate seats and 75 of the 120 House seats after Rep. Bill Brisson of Dublin recently changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. Their numbers allow them to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes.

Persily’s maps were drawn in less than two weeks, a much swifter pace than legislators who found out from the U.S. Supreme Court in June that 28 districts adopted in 2011 and used in three election cycles were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

Persily’s instructions from federal court judges called for him to protect incumbents where possible, but only if that didn’t conflict with other criteria he was given.

‘Double-bunked’ incumbents

In Wake County, two Democrats appear to be in the same district – forcing them to face off in a primary if both seek re-election. Reps. Grier Martin and Cynthia Ball are both in House District 49 under Persily’s proposal. The double-bunking would leave an open seat in northwest Raleigh’s District 34.

In Guilford County, Wade and Democratic Sen. Gladys Robinson would both reside in Senate District 27, leaving open a compact District 28 centered on the core of Greensboro. Several Guilford House members would be double-bunked with members of the opposing party: Republican Rep. John Blust is paired with Democratic Rep. Pricey Harrison in District 61, while Republican Rep. Jon Hardister is paired with Democratic Rep. Amos Quick in District 59. That analysis is based on Hardister’s new address in Whitsett, where he moved to avoid being double-bunked with fellow Republican Rep. John Faircloth under the maps approved in August. The double-bunkings would leave open seats in District 57 in northeastern Greensboro and District 58 in the southwestern part of the city.

The challengers have contended that in the August 2017 maps 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 have argued 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 found by the census.

On Nov. 1, the three federal judges presiding over the case – Catherine Eagles and Thomas Schroeder of the U.S. Middle District of North Carolina and James Wynn of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – rejected lawmakers’ request to get another stab at fixing the problem districts approved in August.

“The State is not entitled to multiple opportunities to remedy its unconstitutional districts,” the judges said in their order announcing the hiring of Persily.

Persily, who has helped draw districts for New York, Maryland, Georgia and Connecticut in court-ordered processes, is the James B. McClatchy professor of law at Stanford, a post named for the late publisher and board chairman of the company that owns The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer.

His research focuses on the law of democracy, and addresses such issues as voting rights, political parties, campaign finance and redistricting. He writes for scholarly publications and popular media.

Persily, who is to be paid $500 an hour, half his hourly rate, has been ordered to have his maps ready for the judges by Dec. 1.

Colin Campbell of the N.C. Insider contributed to this report.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1