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Three former jurists to help trial court with new redistricting maps

NC Legislative building
NC General Assembly

New voting district maps for North Carolina are now in the hands of a state trial court and three former jurists.

After a state Supreme Court majority threw out congressional and legislative district maps for being unconstitutionally gerrymandered with extreme partisan bias, the Republican-led General Assembly and other parties in the litigation drew up proposed remedial plans.

A trial court is now reviewing those maps with the help of three Special Masters - Robert Orr, Robert Edmunds, and Thomas Ross.

Orr served as associate justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court from 1994 to 2004. Edmunds served on the court from 2000 to 2016. Ross was a Superior Court judge for 17 years and served as president of the UNC system from 2011 to 2016.

But state Senate Leader Phil Berger, one of the legislative defendants in the redistricting litigation, said he's concerned the Special Masters may lack certain expertise.

"I don't know that any of them have any particular background or knowledge in kind of the tests that the Supreme Court has said are tests to use as measuring sticks of the maps," Berger said.

The court's deadline for approving new maps is Wednesday.

Late last week, the General Assembly approved the remedial redistricting plans.

House Speaker Tim Moore said the redrawn maps are more competitive and responsive to voter trends.

"These districts that we passed, state house, state senate and Congress, all meet those metrics," Moore said.

Republicans claim that under the new plansthere are six GOP-safe congressional districts, four favoring Democrats and four toss-ups - and that both parties could compete for a majority in the state legislature.

Democrats say Republicans still split too many precincts and urban areas to gain partisan advantage.

In a news release last week, Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue praised the bipartisanship on the House side if only to highlight the discord in his chamber.

“I applaud the House leadership’s commitment to compromise on the House map," Blue said in his statement. "The near-unanimous vote told the story: Democrats and Republicans rolled up their sleeves and passed a bipartisan district map that is fair, proportional, and provides opportunity for growth over the next decade."

Blue also acknowledged some effort by Senate Republicans to reach out to Democrats but questioned their sincerity.

“While Senate Republicans did offer us a last minute compromise in Wake, New Hanover and Mecklenburg counties, their overall strategy has been simple: box in Senate Democrats from gaining more than 21 seats for the next decade," Blue said.

Currently, the GOP has an 8-5 congressional-seat advantage. The state added a 14th district because of population gains in the census. Republicans also control both chambers of the state House and Senate by 69-51 and 28-22 majorities, respectively.

Rusty Jacobs is WUNC's Voting and Election Integrity Reporter.
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