Under the Dome

170 legislative districts the work of 3 men, federal judges say

North Carolina Republicans held hours of public hearings and committee meetings before they presented plans for 170 new legislative districts in 2011, but the man called the “chief architect” of the voting districts never attended the meetings or read the transcripts.

The order issued Thursday by three federal judges throwing out 28 legislative districts offered a behind-the-scenes look at how the districts were drawn. It put a spotlight on the role of Tom Hofeller, the national Republican redistricting expert GOP legislators hired through their lawyers to draw the plans in 2011, and the power the House and Senate redistricting chairmen had directing the process.

The legislature must redraw legislative voting districts at least once every 10 years. The party in power typically uses redistricting to draw boundaries that help it maintain its majority in the General Assembly.

The order quotes trial testimony from Hofeller and the legislative redistricting chairmen, Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County and Sen. Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County.

“It appears that no one besides the two Chairs had any substantive role in designing the 2011 districts,” the order says. Hofeller received instructions directly from Rucho and Lewis.

“The Redistricting Committees did not participate in defining redistricting criteria for Dr. Hofeller, nor were Dr. Hofeller’s draft maps presented to the Redistricting Committees for their input prior to public release.”

Lewis said in an interview that he and Rucho relayed information from the public hearings to Hofeller. For example, they could have drawn what they called a Voting Rights District in the southeast, but decided not to after they found no public support for it, Lewis said.

“We definitely listened to the input that came in from the public hearing,” he said. “We definitely listened to and sought advice.”

The court opinion says that once Hofeller’s district maps were released publicly, they didn’t change much and won quick approval in the House and Senate.

“In short,” the opinion said, “within a month-and-a-half, Dr. Hofeller’s maps were released in near-final form to the public, presented to the Redistricting Committees, and passed without significant modifications by the General Assembly. And because those maps were the work of Dr. Hofeller, who was in turn directed only by the two Redistricting Chairs, it is clear that three individuals substantially carried out North Carolina’s 2011 statewide redistricting effort.”

Lewis said Republicans looked forward to the Supreme Court deciding whether the federal panel’s decision throwing out the districts was right, noting that a panel of three state Superior Court judges and the U.S. Department of Justice OK’d the maps.

Lewis said there had been no firm decision on an appeal.

Lewis said he’d talk to House Speaker Tim Moore and attorneys later Friday. “We have not decided what our next move will be,” Lewis said.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner

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