Three-Judge Panel To Decide Whether To Use Current NC Congressional Maps In 2020

Oct 24, 2019

From left, Judges Alma Hinton, Paul Ridgeway, and Joseph Crosswhite, the Wake County Superior Court panel hearing the partisan gerrymandering case against North Carolina's congressional district maps, at Thursday's hearing on the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction.
Credit Rusty Jacobs / WUNC

A Wake County Superior Court panel will decide whether to block the use of North Carolina's current congressional district maps in next year's elections, with candidate filing for the 2020 contests just around the corner.

These same three judges are already reviewing newly redrawn state legislative maps for use next year. They ordered those redrawn after finding GOP lawmakers violated the state constitution by gerrymandering legislative boundaries with excessive partisan bias.

 

In the new case challenging the congressional district lines, 14 Democratic-leaning voters make a similar claim--that Republican legislators either packed them into the same districts or split them up to lock in a 10 to 3 GOP majority in North Carolina's congressional delegation.

"The question is between allowing an unconstitutional election to go forward which violates the constitutional rights of millions of North Carolinians or allowing an unconstitutional districting map to stay in place, and there's really no contest," said Elisabeth Theodore, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys.

Theodore was also part of the legal team in Common Cause v. Lewis, the partisan gerrymandering case that resulted in a redrawing of North Carolina's legislative district boundaries.

She noted that last year a federal court had already found excessive partisan bias in the makeup of North Carolina congressional districts, where the same Republican lawmakers used the same map-making consultant who relied on partisan data to group voters.

"All of that is clear, it's admissible in this case, it's on the record," Theodore said.

The U.S. Supreme Court vacated that ruling and left it to states to work out squabbles over partisan gerrymandering claims.

Attorney Katherine McKnight, standing, representing GOP state lawmakers, addresses the judicial panel, arguing time is too tight to toss the state's current congressional district maps ahead of the 2020 elections. Seated in the foreground, from left to right, are plaintiffs' attorneys Stanton Jones and Elisabeth Theodore.
Credit Rusty Jacobs / WUNC

"As we sit here today, we are five weeks away from the beginning of candidate filing, and that's on December 2nd," Attorney Katherine McKnight, who represents the GOP lawmakers, told the judges, arguing time was too tight to throw out congressional maps now.

And McKnight said $19 million dollars had already been spent on campaigning for the current congressional districts.

"That's not just money received by candidates, that's money that voters have put into the pockets of candidates to say 'I support you, I want you to represent me,' and they will no longer have that certainty," she added.

The state elections board said it would need new district lines by December 15 to avoid having to move back the March primaries.

Judge Paul Ridgeway speaking for the panel said a decision would come soon.