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Lawsuit challenges N.C. redistricting
Plaintiffs argue GOP remap violates voter rights
 
Published Thursday, November 3, 2011 5:03 pm
by Herbert L. White

A legal challenge to North Carolina’s legislative and congressional redistricting plan is headed to court.

A group of plaintiffs that includes the Rev. Brenda Stevenson of Charlotte, filed suit in Wake County Superior Court on Thursday. The suit asks that maps drawn by the Republican-dominated General Assembly be thrown out as a violation of minority voting rights as well as the excessive splitting of counties and precincts.

Under the redistricting approved by lawmakers earlier this year, nearly half of the state’s black voters will be packed into three congressional districts, 10 N.C. Senate districts and 25 House districts.

“The Republicans in the General Assembly who drew these maps came up with a plan that re-segregates North Carolina as much as possible and then hid behind federal law to justify it,” N.C. Sen. Martin Nesbitt and Rep. Joe Hackney, who lead Democratic leaders in those respective chambers, said in a joint statement.

The House redistricting splits 49 of North Carolina’s 100 counties; the Senate plan severs 19. The state constitution requires counties to remain whole to the greatest extent possible.  Forty counties are cut in the congressional map. 

“They have cut up counties, communities, and even hundreds of voting precincts so that as much as possible they can limit the number of districts where African-American voters can influence elections,” Hackney and Nesbitt said. “This lawsuit asks the courts to remedy their egregious overreach and require a plan that is fair to all of the voters in the state.”

The U.S. Justice Department issued its pre-clearance for the three maps earlier this week, but it doesn’t affect the lawsuit. Under the federal Voting Rights Act, pre-clearance reviews are required under Section 5 of the act.

The lawsuit will be tried before a three-judge panel made up of a Wake Superior Court jurist, one from the eastern part of the state and another from west. Sarah Parker, chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, will select the panel. Any appeal of its decision would go before the state Supreme Court.

Margaret Dickson, a former member of the state House and the state Senate from Cumberland County, is the lead plaintiff. A broad coalition of citizens from across North Carolina filed a lawsuit today challenging the constitutionality of the legislative and congressional redistricting plans passed by the General Assembly earlier this year.

The 44 North Carolinians filed their suit in Wake County Superior Court, as required by state law, asking that the maps be declared unconstitutional and prohibited for use in any election.

The suit challenges the maps on several issues, including violation of voters’ rights through racial segregation and excessive division of counties and precincts.

Under the Republican-passed maps, about half of the African-Americans in the state will be packed into just three congressional districts, 10 state Senate districts, and 25 state House districts. This packing was intentionally done to diminish African-American influence on elections, the lawsuit contends.   

“The Republicans in the General Assembly who drew these maps came up with a plan that re-segregates North Carolina as much as possible and then hid behind federal law to justify it,” Sen. Martin Nesbitt and Rep. Joe Hackney, Democratic leaders in the state Senate and state House, said in a joint statement.

The state House redistricting plan divides 49 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, while the state senate plan splits 19 counties, despite provisions in the North Carolina Constitution requiring counties to remain whole to the greatest extent possible.  Forty counties were arbitrarily split in the congressional map.  Additionally, 395 precincts (containing nearly 1.9 million people) at the state House level and 257 precincts (containing 1.3 million people) at the state Senate level were split. This splitting of precincts often leads to voter confusion, lower voter turnout and higher election costs.

“They have cut up counties, communities, and even hundreds of voting precincts so that as much as possible they can limit the number of districts where African-American voters can influence elections. This lawsuit asks the courts to remedy their egregious overreach and require a plan that is fair to all of the voters in the state,” Hackney and Nesbitt said. 

The “pre-clearance” issued by the federal Department of Justice earlier this week regarding the three maps does not affect the lawsuit. Under the federal Voting Rights Act, the pre-clearance process only reviews requirements under Section 5 of the act. No other sections of the act or other state or federal Constitutional issues were reviewed by the Justice Department.

Under North Carolina law, the lawsuit will be tried before a three-judge panel comprised of one Superior Court judge from Wake County, one from Eastern North Carolina and one from Western North Carolina. The Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court will select the panel. Any appeal of the panel’s decision would go directly to the NC Supreme Court.

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