Under the Dome

Trial on NC legislative districts begins; expected to last a week

Three federal judges shared the bench in Greensboro on Monday as a trial began over the legality of North Carolina's legislative districts.

A group of 27 voters filed a lawsuit in May 2015, arguing that maps drawn in 2011 for nine state House districts (4, 5, 14, 20, 21, 28, 32, 38, 40) and 19 state Senate districts (5, 7, 12, 21, 24, 29, 31, 32, 33, 38, 42, 48, 57, 99, 102, 07) were designed to weaken the influence of black voters, who in North Carolina predominantly vote for Democrats.

Republicans led the 2011 redistricting, an exercise that happens every 10 years after the Census.

The panel of judges who will decide whether the maps can be used in the 2016 elections are James A. Wynn Jr., an Obama appointee to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals; Thomas D. Schroeder, a district judge appointed by George W. Bush; and Catherine Eagles, a district judge appointed by Obama.

During the five-day trial, the judges are expected to hear arguments similar to ones made before a different three-judge panel that declared two of North Carolina's 13 congressional districts drawn by the same mapmakers to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

On the opening day, the judges heard Sen. Dan Blue, a black Wake County Democrat who is in one of the districts being challenged, discuss his success at the polls before the district had a majority of black voters.

Later in the day, Ted Arrington, a redistricting expert and professor emeritus at UNC-Charlotte, testified about data used to draw election districts and said that after looking at numbers associated with North Carolina's 2011 maps, he concluded that race was "a predominant factor" in their design, which would be illegal.

Arrington said he would "almost say" that race was the sole factor, but he acknowledged there may have been another reason for some precinct-splitting.

On cross-examination, Tom Farr, a private attorney representing the state, asked Arrington whether whites primarily voted Republican. Arrington replied, "Mostly."

Republicans have said that maintaining and enhancing partisan advantage was the motive behind the maps, not race.