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State Court OKs Start Of Congressional Candidate Filing

Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

A state court has given the green light to open candidate filing for North Carolina's 2020 congressional elections. The judicial panel ruled Monday that the importance of holding the state's March 3 congressional primaries on time was more pressing than the need to resolve lingering legal questions about North Carolina's new congressional map.

In a first-of-its-kind ruling on partisan gerrymandering, in September, the same court struck down the state's legislative district maps for being unconstitutionally crafted to favor Republican candidates. The court then blocked the 2016 congressional map for the same reason but with just a few weeks to go before the start of candidate filing. The judges urged the Republican-controlled General Assembly to redraw the map quickly, yet transparently.

Attorney Phil Strach, representing top Republican lawmakers in the state legislature, told the court Monday that is just what  his clients did.

Credit Rusty Jacobs, WUNC
Attorney Phil Strach, in court Monday, defending the GOP lawmakers who led the recent effort to redraw North Carolina's congressional map.

"It's the first time in state history that congressional redistricting was open to the public in real time and with unprecedented access to the redrawing process," Strach said, urging the court to dismiss the plaintiffs' request for a summary judgment against the newly drawn congressional map.

"There's over 45 percent difference in population between the old districts and the new districts, that alone is material and substantial," Strach argued, defending the fairness of the map.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case acknowledged the new map is likely to cut the state's GOP congressional advantage from 10-3 to 8-5. But they said the map still locks in a Republican majority by either packing Democratic voters into the same districts or splitting them up.

"This plan, just like the last plan, pre-ordains the outcomes, deliberately, systematically, the only difference is the last plan was a 10 to 3 gerrymander and this is an 8-5 gerrymander," said Attorney Stanton Jones.

Reading the court's order from the bench, Judge Paul Ridgeway said the importance of holding the 2020 primaries on time outweighed the need to litigate any lingering questions about the new congressional map. But Ridgeway expressed the court's "fervent hope" that litigation over the electoral maps would set a foundation for future redistricting in North Carolina.

"And that future maps are crafted through a process worthy of public confidence and a process that yields elections that are conducted freely and honestly to ascertain fairly and truthfully the will of the people," Ridgeway said.

That process will be tested in a new round of redistricting following the 2020 census.

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