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Posted by on Sep 3, 2015

Our View: Redistricting Suit Reminds Us of A Better Way

Fayetteville Observer

Posted: Wednesday, September 2, 2015 11:30 pm | Updated: 11:43 pm, Wed Sep 2, 2015.

It’s been more than four years and two state elections since the latest North Carolina voting districts were created.
But they are still under a cloud of legal challenges that have already found their way to the U.S. Supreme Court once and probably will land there again.

The question is not whether the Republican majority in the General Assembly gerrymandered the districts to gain political advantage. Of course they did, and that’s legal and constitutional. What’s at issue here is whether legislative mapmakers went beyond politics and used race to design districts that also give them an advantage – which is neither legal nor constitutional.

The N.C. Supreme Court ruled last year that the redistricting was legal in all ways and that the new districts could stand. But the decision – in which former state Sen. Margaret Dickson of Fayetteville is the lead plaintiff – was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In April, that court tossed the case back to the N.C. Supreme Court, saying it must reconsider whether lawmakers relied too heavily on race.

The redistricting did create some bizarre-shaped districts, especially those created to insure success for African-American candidates. But it’s still uncertain if those districts were created by a legally unacceptable process.
The state Supreme Court held its second review of the case on Monday, and justices seemed perplexed by what they saw as sharply differing precedents in federal court decisions, seeking explanations from lawyers for both sides.

No matter how the state justices rule, another appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is seen as inevitable by both sides. The N.C. justices didn’t say Monday how quickly they would rule. We hope a decision will come before campaigning begins in earnest for 2016 state and federal elections.

We’d also like to see this as a final chapter in a saga that plays out almost like clockwork after every decade’s exercise in redistricting. It’s a frustrating, time-and-money-wasting ritual that undermines voters’ confidence in their electoral system. At various times in the past, both Democrats and Republicans have united around plans to create a nonpartisan legislative redistricting commission. Such a measure has bipartisan support in the N.C. House today, but not in the Senate.

It’s time to stop this endless cycle of protests, lawsuits, special legislative sessions and delayed elections. Let’s turn redistricting over to an impartial panel and make the voter, not political power, the most important principle.

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Posted by on Aug 31, 2015

Fate of 2011 legislative, congressional maps back in court

By Gary D. RobertsonThe Associated PressSunday, August 30, 20150 Comments | Leave a Comment

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s boundaries for General Assembly and congressional seats were drawn four years ago by Republican legislators and have been used in the past two election cycles, helping bolster GOP electoral gains.
Yet the initial litigation that called the role race played in forming the districts discriminatory and illegal remains unresolved.

Combined lawsuits filed by election and civil rights groups and Democratic voters are back at the state Supreme Court. Justices will hear arguments Monday whether they should change their majority ruling from eight months ago that upheld the maps now that there’s a new U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The nation’s highest court told North Carolina state judges in April to reconsider the case through the lens of its March decision. The U.S. justices found Alabama legislators relied too much on “mechanical” numerical percentages while drawing legislative districts in which blacks comprised a majority of the population.

Those who sued over North Carolina’s maps in 2011 believe the ruling in the Alabama matter is spot on with the boundaries drawn by the General Assembly. They argued in court briefs that it confirms two dozen legislative districts, along with the majority-black 1st and 12th Congressional Districts, should be struck down and maps redrawn quickly by the legislature for the 2016 elections.

State attorneys and legislative leaders contend the Alabama case is altogether different, and the current maps should remain intact.

“They’re fair and legal,” said Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, the Senate’s chief mapmaker in 2011. “We don’t suspect there will be any changes because the decision of the Alabama case is like apples and (oranges) to the case that we presented.”

Lawyers challenging the maps argue North Carolina GOP leaders, as in Alabama, went beyond what the U.S. Voting Rights Act and case law demand by shoehorning black voters into irregularly-shaped districts and eroding their ability to elect their preferred candidates.

North Carolina lawmakers created even more majority-minority districts compared to the maps drawn last decade mostly by Democrats, and increased the percentage of black voters in previously majority-black state House districts.

Although there’s now a record number of black legislators, those lawmakers and the black voters they represent have less influence than before because they are crammed in districts as adjoining districts became more Republican, said Anita Earls, an attorney representing the state NAACP, a plaintiff.

Black legislators “would say that they have less power than they’ve ever had,” Earls said. “They have no ability to get their policies or positions passed.”

Earls and her allies point to previous districts where black lawmakers have won in districts that are less than 50 percent black by swaying white voters, too. But the state’s attorneys counter that no black candidate was elected to the General Assembly in 2010 from a majority-white district.

Rucho said mapmakers followed redistricting principles set out by the state Supreme Court more than 10 years ago. They’ve argued the law and court rulings make clear creating majority-minority districts are justified to protect the state from discrimination litigation.

Rucho said Alabama legislators went far and beyond the Voting Rights Act by creating districts with black populations of 60 and 70 percent, Rucho said. None of North Carolina’s majority-black districts exceeded 57 percent.

Those who sued said race was the predominant factor in drawing the districts, making them racial gerrymanders that can’t be justified. But legislators said the maps were chiefly designed to retain Republican majorities in the General Assembly.

A Virginia congressional district also has been reviewed in light of the Alabama matter. A panel of federal judges ruled again that Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District was unlawful.

The prevailing decision by North Carolina’s justices is likely to be appealed back to the U.S. Supreme Court. There are also two other pending North Carolina redistricting cases in federal court.

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Posted by on Jul 20, 2015

Nonpartisan redistricting supporters resurrect dead Gov. Elbridge Gerry

UNDER THE DOME
JULY 17, 2015
Nonpartisan redistricting supporters resurrect dead Gov. Elbridge Gerry

Namesake of gerrymandering appears on Twitter

N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform is behind account

‘Redistricting reform’ bills have gone nowhere this session
Gov. Elbridge Gerry
Gov. Elbridge Gerry
BY COLIN CAMPBELL
ccampbell@newsobserver.com

Former Vice President and Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry has been dead for 200 years, but an advocacy group is bringing him back this month to lobby for nonpartisan redistricting.

The term gerrymandering is named for him because he redistricted the Massachusetts state Senate to benefit his political party in 1812. As of this month, Gerry has a Twitter account in which he lobbies to reclaim his legacy by ending the use of gerrymandering to draw district lines.
The account – and an accompanying opinion piece in Friday’s News & Observer – are authored by the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, which is pushing for nonpartisan redistricting in North Carolina.

The group is encouraging supporters to tweet 271st birthday wishes to the dead governor.
State legislation to create a nonpartisan redistricting reform process have drawn dozens of co-sponsors from both parties, but neither the House or Senate has held a hearing on the bills this year.

And with the legislature now turning its focus to the state budget, the bills could be as dead as Gov. Gerry.

UNDER THE DOME

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article27489067.html#storylink=cpy

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Posted by on Jul 14, 2015

A citizen speaks out

After living most of my life in Florida–a state with enough retrogression problems of its own–I am still struck by the comparative powerlessness of the people of North Carolina. Down in Florida, as you surely have noticed, the people approved a pair of initiatives to forbid gerrymandering in Congressional and legislative redistricting. Wonder of wonders, the Florida Supreme Court put teeth into those amendments last week, tossing eight Congressional districts, and is likely to do the same with state Senate districts in subsequent litigation. The points are that the people had the power of initiative and used it to good effect, and the Supreme Court itself is insulated from politics by having a merit selection and retention system. (That isn’t going to last because of Jeb Bush’s changes to merit selection, but that’s another story.) Florida also has home rule, so the Legislature could never do what ours in NC just did.

The people of North Carolina need a reform crusade: initiative, recall, and home rule. The more dramatic we make it, the more likely it will help elect sympathetic legislators. The question: How do we get there?

 

Martin Dyckman

Waynesville, NC

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Posted by on Jun 30, 2015

Supreme Court decision may clear way for partisan support for NC redistricting commission

Richard Craver/Winston-Salem Journal
North Carolina – at least for now – is not likely to feel a ripple effect from Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Arizona’s right to have an independent commission handle congressional redistricting.
The court ruling affected 13 states – none in the Southeast – that use commissions as part of their congressional redistricting process every 10 years. The goal of the commissions is limiting partisan influence.

By comparison, North Carolina redistricting is handled by the General Assembly, which has received criticism for being partisan in developing map lines, depending on which party controls the legislature.

“The court opted not to place a barrier in the way of independent congressional-redistricting commissions that are in effect or might be contemplated by other states, such as North Carolina,” said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University.

Three House and one Senate bills have been introduced during the current legislative session, none of which have been acted upon.

“The Supreme Court ruling clarifies that the redistricting commission bills filed in the General Assembly this year are constitutional,” said Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, and a co-sponsor of House Bill 92. “That ruling removes one of the objections.”

Shelly Carver, a spokeswoman for Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and president pro tem, had a one-word answer – “No” – when asked if the U.S. Supreme Court decision directly affects N.C.’s redistricting process.

A more pivotal legal case affecting North Carolina redistricting is set for Aug. 31. That’s when the N.C. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments addressing challenges to the 2011 redistricting maps that also set legislative districts.

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to N.C. Supreme Court with instructions to reconsider a December decision that upheld the maps. The case is Dickson vs. Rucho.

Margaret Dickson, a former state legislator, is serving as plaintiff. Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, is the primary defendant for the legislature. Dickson’s lawsuit, backed by the state NAACP chapter, says the aim of the current redistricting maps is to dilute the black vote in violation of the U.S. and state constitutions.

“The result has been a lack of competition in our state’s congressional and legislative elections, depriving North Carolina voters of having a real voice in choosing their representatives,” left-leaning advocacy group Common Cause N.C. said.

Dinan said the biggest difference between the Arizona redistricting case and North Carolina is North Carolina doesn’t have a provision for the citizen initiative process.

“There was a very small chance — or at least speculation — that if the court did find fault with the Arizona redistricting commission that the court could have gone so far as to invalidate any independent congressional-redistricting commissions, whether they were established through the initiative process or by some other process,” Dinan said.

“The argument would have been that the Constitution says congressional redistricting must be done by state legislatures, and no other body can perform this role.

“Such a sweeping ruling would have had major implications for any state contemplating establishing an independent commission to handle congressional redistricting,” Dinan said.

Bi-partisan support is there
House Bill 92 has three Republican and one Democratic primary co-sponsors and 59 co-sponsors, including Reps. Ed Hanes and Evelyn Terry of Forsyth.

That bill would give redistricting authority to a nonpartisan legislative staff panel with both parties having representation.

It would require legislative districts to be within 5 percent of the “ideal population,” and also be comprised of districts that meet at more than just adjoining corners.

Ideal population is defined as keeping districts, whether congressional or legislative, roughly equal in terms of population “as nearly as is practicable,” according to Joseph Levitt, a law professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, congressional districts would be required to be within 0.1 percent of the ideal population.

Despite having more than half of the House as sponsors, the Nonpartisan Redistricting Commission bill has not been acted on since sent to the House Elections committee Feb. 18.

“Bipartisan support exists in the N.C. House to establish a commission,” Insko said.

“What would help move the bills forward is increasing public support. The gerrymandered districts will not support some sitting Republicans in the NC Senate due to population shifts.”

Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause N.C., said he is hopeful the U.S. Supreme Court ruling will build momentum “to take partisan politics out of the redistricting process.”

“We urge the General Assembly to pass House Bill 92 and establish a fair system for drawing our state’s voting maps.”

Gov. Pat McCrory, as well as former governors Jim Hunt and Jim Martin, has expressed support for redistricting reform. Also on board for reform are the right-leaning John Locke Foundation and the left-leaning N.C. Justice Center.

“The outcome of this case could have a long-term impact on efforts to change North Carolina’s redistricting process to one involving an independent commission or legislative staffers,” said Mitch Kokai, a policy analyst for the Locke Foundation

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