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NC Supreme Court, On Second Thought, Still Upholds Republican Voting Maps

Photo: North Carolina Supreme Court
Giant Sloth

The North Carolina Supreme Court has upheld the state’s congressional and legislative maps for a second time, ruling that Republican state lawmakers did not illegally consider race when they drew voting districts.

The high state court, divided along party lines in a 4-to-3 decision, found that Republican lawmakers used race as one of several factors in drawing the maps after they took control of the General Assembly in 2011.

“Where racial identification correlates highly with party affiliation, placing additional Democratic voters in districts that already vote Democratic is not forbidden as long as the motivation for doing so is not primarily racial,” wrote Justice Paul Newby in the majority opinion.

The court reaffirmed an opinion it issued December 2014, after the U.S. Supreme Court threw it out. The court ordered state justices to reconsider it taking into consideration a new federal ruling that Alabama lawmakers had relied too much on “mechanical” numerical percentages while drawing legislative districts in which blacks comprised a majority of the population.

The ruling makes it more likely that the state’s 2016 primary elections will be held using the same maps, which were used in the 2014 and 2012 elections. They have helped Republicans keep veto-proof majorities in the state House and Senate and hold 10 of the 13 seats in North Carolina’s congressional delegation. Two challenges to the voting maps are pending in federal courts.

Rep. David Lewis and Sen. Bob Rucho, two top Republicans who helped draw the maps, said in a statement that the court’s decision showed again that they had fairly and legally established voting boundaries.

“It’s time for these left-wing groups to stop wasting taxpayer money pursuing their frivolous and politically-motivated appeals and finally accept the will of the voters,” they said.

The North Carolina NAACP and a former Democratic state lawmaker, Margaret Dickson of Fayetteville, had argued that lawmakers’ consideration of race resulted in a map that packed African Americans into too few districts, diluting their influence across the state. Dickson plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, she said in a statement.

“Today’s ruling by the North Carolina Supreme Court reflects their continued misunderstanding of the facts in this case and the law,” Dickson said.

The practice of one political party drawing voting maps in its favor and the opposing party challenging the maps dates almost to the writing of the U.S. Constitution in the late 1700s, said East Carolina University Professor Thom Eamon. But while the process is legal, many see it as detrimental to democracy, Eamon said.

“It’s an old American tradition, but it also subverts the Democratic process,” Eamon said. “This is a fiercely partisan process in fiercely partisan times.”

Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.
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