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Federal Judges Asked To Rule On New Congressional Maps

Photo: Proposed legislative maps of 2016
North Carolina General Assembly

Federal judges are being asked to approve the new North Carolina congressional maps approved by state lawmakers last week. Earlier this month, three voters successfully sued after claiming the previous maps were racially gerrymandered.

A federal three-judge panel struck down those boundaries, ruling them unconstitutional. Lawmakers at the General Assembly then held a special session, and approved more compact districts.
The original plaintiffs filed a brief on Monday, asking the judges to look at the new maps.

"The map adopted by the General Assembly has been subject to considerable criticism, and the plaintiffs share those deep concerns. Their preliminary analysis of the new plan suggests that it is no more appropriate than the version struck down by the court. It is critical that the citizens of North Carolina vote in constitutional districts in the upcoming primary, now scheduled for June, and every election thereafter," part of the filing reads.

They allege the new plan is no more appropriate than the version already deemed illegal. Now attorneys for the plaintiffs are asking that three judge panel to determine if the new borders are legal. Republicans say race wasn't used in drawing the new lines. Democrats contend the latest maps are still excessively partisan and should have taken racial demographics into account. The plaintiffs are asking the judges to determine the validity of these maps by March 18.

Meanwhile, the new maps do not take population growth or shifts into account, because they do not have to. The new districts are out of federal compliance, yet are still legal. Lawmakers are required to look at the previous census when redistricting. Based on the 2010 numbers, each North Carolina district had more than 733,000 residents. But since that time, population growth has been uneven across the state.  

"I was trying to imagine this morning a map that you could draw, that would be equal in 2010 and would remain roughly equal for as long as possible, and it would look really bizarre. I don't know if you could do it," said Rebecca Tippett, with UNC's Carolina Population Center.

She says drawing maps while considering constantly changing populations is very challenging.

"When we're thinking about districts as being compliant - being within equal population size - basically as soon as you start to move away from the census, you move out of compliance," she added.

She says regardless of how the three judge panel rules on these newest maps, the changing population is likely to require another overhaul of the boundaries, following the 2020 census.

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