Judges to pick expert for state’s redistricting review

Published 11:55 pm Tuesday, February 8, 2022

By Gary D. Robertson
Associated Press

RALEIGH — A trial court panel will name an outside remapping expert to help them determine whether upcoming replacement redistricting maps comply with partisan limits required by the North Carolina Supreme Court.

The three-judge panel issued an order on Tuesday that gave the plaintiffs and legislative defendants until late Wednesday to offer candidates for a special master.

The state Supreme Court tossed out GOP-drawn congressional and legislative maps last week, concluding that they had been illegally engineered to secure a long-term Republican advantage in an otherwise closely divided state.

At the time of the ruling, the court told the panel that had convened the initial trial on the lawsuits to adopt or enact constitutionally compliant remedial plans by Feb. 23. That’s one day before candidate filing for the May 17 primary is to resume. The Supreme Court could still hear last-minute requests to delay the use of approved maps.

The 4-3 Democratic majority on the Supreme Court told the Republican-controlled legislature to turn in new maps to the trial court by Feb. 18, and to allow lawsuits’ plaintiffs to offer alternate plans as well.

Each set of maps must be attached with information about how mapmakers relied on certain data so the trial judges can decide whether they comply with the Supreme Court’s wishes, Tuesday’s order says. They include what methods were used to evaluate the partisan fairness of the plan and the results of any assessment on whether certain districts must be drawn to ensure Black voters have the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. The special master would assist the trial judges in reviewing the plans and potentially drawing maps if the General Assembly fails to enact compliant plans.

House Speaker Tim Moore said Tuesday that he expected votes on remedial redistricting maps next week by his chamber. Senate Republicans haven’t said much publicly about their schedule.

Tuesday’s order provides more direction to legislators who said they were uncertain about how to approve replacement maps that would meet the Supreme Court’s requirements. The order by the court’s majority last Friday that declared the previously approved maps were illegal partisan gerrymanders ran just seven pages. A more detailed opinion is expected.

The previous maps, approved by the legislature in November, likely would have ensured GOP wins in at least 10 of the state’s 14 U.S. House seats, as well as the continuation of Republican majorities in the state House and Senate.

In reversing the trial court ruling, the Supreme Court agreed the boundaries violated the state constitution. The Supreme Court’s majority said the General Assembly can’t systematically make it harder for a bloc of voters — in this case those who vote Democratic — to elect its favored governing majority than an equally sized bloc backing Republicans.