Rowan County lawmakers satisfied with three-judge panel ruling on redistricting case, expect appeals

Published 12:10 am Thursday, January 13, 2022

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Rowan County lawmakers say a Superior Court ruling issued Tuesday in favor of district maps drawn by the Republican-led General Assembly was the right decision.

Shortly after new congressional and state legislative maps were adopted in November, two separate lawsuits were filed, with North Carolina League of Conservation Voters and math experts backing one and another from voters backed by an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. Suits alleged partisan- and race-based manipulation of district boundaries, or gerrymandering. Plaintiffs alleged the maps violated the state constitution and broke rules from a state Supreme Court ruling in the early 2000s that determined racial data must be considered during the drawing of political districts because of protections granted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

On Tuesday, the deadline the N.C. Supreme Court set for the ruling, a three-judge panel refused to throw out the maps. Judges wrote they could not declare the legislators’ actions violated state constitution provisions, calling the process inherently political with many of the lawsuits’ claims falling outside of the court’s scope.

“At the end of the day, after carefully and fully conducting our analysis, it is clear that plaintiffs’ claims must fail,” Superior Court Judges Graham Shirley, Nathaniel Poovey and Dawn Layton wrote in the order that exceeded 200 pages.

Judges also stated in the order that, though the maps are “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting,” they were still borne out of a democratic process.

“This court neither condones the enacted maps nor their anticipated potential results,” the judges stated. “Despite our disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule, this court must remind itself that these maps are the result of a democratic process.”

Shirley and Poovey are both registered Republicans, while Layton is a Democrat. Rep. Harry Warren, a Republican representing Rowan County, said he was surprised with the ruling given their political makeup. However, he and other lawmakers anticipated there would be an appeal, he said.

Warren said the ruling recognizes the fact that redistricting is inherently “political in nature,” while also acknowledging that the process was conducted in a transparent and fair manner.

“Citizens will still have the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice,” Warren said.

State Sen. Carl Ford, a Republican representing Rowan and Stanly counties, said the maps were “drawn so fair, legal and above board,” adding that North Carolinians could log into the website to draw their own maps, see what’s being drawn or voice their concerns at a number of public input sessions held across the state.

The ongoing litigation in December led to the halt of candidate filing for the 2022 election. The new primary date is scheduled for May 17. But North Carolina is no stranger to scheduling changes in the election cycle. Courts ordered new maps in 2016 and 2019, with some primaries in 2016 delayed from March to June, which Ford told the Post “nobody wants.”

“Let’s get on with this thing,” Ford said.

Ford added he can understand voters wanting more opportunities to have a say in the redistricting process. He recalls a decade ago when such comments could only be made in Raleigh.

“The constitution says (lawmakers) draw the maps,” Ford added.

North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Bobbie Richardson expressed disappointment with the ruling, stating that “Republicans lied to their colleagues when they promised a fair and transparent redistricting process.”

“Throughout this process, I have said that voters ought to be able to select the individuals that represent them, not the other way around,” Richardson said. “This is not the end of the fight for fair and transparent maps that reflect the diversity of our state.”

Rep. Wayne Sasser, a Republican representing parts of Rowan, Cabarrus and Stanly counties, said lawmakers are “sitting around waiting to see what happens” as lawmakers could be instructed to modify or redraw maps depending on the final court rulings. The 2021-22 legislative session has not yet adjourned, and lawmakers do not know at this time when the short legislative session in 2022 will begin.

“We knew no matter which side won, it was going to get an appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court,” Sasser said. “Everybody wants to get it done yesterday, but it’s a process.”

Sasser said he hopes there won’t be a need for map changes so that districts can remain the same until the next round of redistricting following the next decennial Census.

Like Warren, Sasser said he was surprised the ruling was unanimous despite one judge being a Democrat, but he sees that as a positive.

Ultimately, the North Carolina Supreme Court will have a say, and appeals must be filed within two business days of the the three-judge panel’s ruling.

“At trial, we proved beyond a doubt that all three maps are unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders that entrench Republican majorities even if Democrats win the statewide vote by 7 points,” said North Carolina League of Conservation Voters Executive Director Carrie Clark. “We will immediately appeal to the state Supreme Court so every North Carolinian will finally have the equal freedom to choose their representatives in free elections.”

Republicans currently hold eight of the 13 congressional seats in a U.S. House narrowly led by Democrats. North Carolina gained a House seat for the next decade based on population growth in the 2020 census.

A separate court ruling issued Tuesday ordered the consideration of any challenges to candidates for U.S. House, North Carolina House or North Carolina Senate to be suspended until final resolution of the litigation filed by North Carolina League of Conservation Voters against Rep. Destin Hall, chairman of the Redistricting and House Rules committees. Last week, attorneys for the General Assembly filed a motion to the state Supreme Court requesting Justice Samuel Ervin IV, a Democrat, recuse himself from presiding over the redistricting cases since he’s seeking re-election in 2022.

Rep. Julia Howard, a Republican representing Rowan and Davie counties, did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.