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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 May 26, 2015

SUPREME COURT TO HEAR CHALLENGE TO TEXAS REDISTRICTING PLAN

Washington Post, May 26, 2015

 
The Supreme Court said Tuesday that it will decide an important “one person, one vote” case next term to determine whether states should consider total population — or only eligible voters — when drawing roughly equal legislative districts.

A shift from using total population would have an enormous impact in states with large immigrant populations, where greater numbers are children or noncitizens. It would shift power from urban areas to more rural districts.

The Supreme Court in 1964 ruled that states must divide electoral districts population-wise so that political power is equally shared. But it did not specify whether total population or eligible voters was the standard to use.

The case comes from two people who are challenging Texas’s redistricting, which like most states is based on total population. The state had told the justices that there was no reason to take up the challenge.

“Plaintiffs cite no case in which a court has accepted their claim that the Constitution compels states to apportion their legislative districts based on voter population as opposed to or in addition to total population,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote in the state’s response.

“And multiple precedents from this court confirm that total population is a permissible apportionment base under the Equal Protection Clause.”

The challenge is brought by the Project on Fair Representation, an organization headed by Edward Blum, which has also brought challenges based on racial and ethnic classifications to affirmative action in higher education and to the federal Voting Rights Act.

Their petition to the court said that while Texas’s Senate districts are roughly equal in population, they vary widely in the number of eligible voters.

“This case presents the court with the opportunity to restore the important principle of one-person, one-vote to the citizens of Texas and elsewhere,” Blum said in a statement.

The case is Evenwel v. Abbott and will be heard in the term that starts in October.

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Posted by on Apr 20, 2015

Supreme Court Revives Challenge to North Carolina Redistricting

FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Civil rights groups say illegally redrawn election map dilutes influence of black voters
By JESS BRAVIN
Updated April 20, 2015 3:21 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday revived a challenge to North Carolina’s election map, which civil rights groups complain illegally concentrates black voters in a handful of districts.

The North Carolina Supreme Court in December had upheld a redistricting map set by the Republican-controlled state legislature following the 2010 census. But in March, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated a similar lawsuit against Alabama’s map, which also had previously passed muster with a lower court.

Monday’s decision, issued without comment, ordered the North Carolina high court to reconsider its ruling in light of the March opinion. The Alabama ruling required a lower court to consider that packing more minority voters in a district than necessary to give them political strength could violate the Voting Rights Act, by reducing the number of districts where minority voters could wield influence.

Lawyers challenging the map said they have filed a motion asking the North Carolina Supreme Court to expedite its review. “Plaintiffs originally filed this case in 2011. They are entitled to a final determination that their rights have been violated and a prompt redrawing of non-discriminatory, geographically compact districts in time for the 2016 elections,” said Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a Durham, N.C., group representing the challengers

The North Carolina attorney general’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Following the 2010 census, the North Carolina Legislature redrew congressional and legislative lines to concentrate African-Americans in a handful of districts, under the theory the Voting Rights Act favored the creation of majority black districts.

The prior state map had no majority black congressional or state Senate districts; the 2011 map had two of the former and nine of the latter. In the state House, majority-black seats increased to 23 from 10.

Because blacks have voted overwhelmingly for Democrats, concentrating them in fewer districts had the effect of increasing the proportion of Republican-leaning white voters in other districts. The new map didn’t radically alter the state’s political balance in the 2014 elections, as Republicans picked up one seat in the 50-member Senate and lost three in the 120-member House. Democrats lost one seat in North Carolina’s congressional delegation, where Republicans now hold a 10-3 edge.

Nevertheless, minority voters, North Carolina NAACP branches and other groups sued to block the new map, contending it illegally diluted black voting strength. Since African-Americans already were able to elect their “candidates of choice” in majority-white districts—apparently through political coalitions with the minority of whites who favored Democrats—“packing” blacks into specific districts violates the Voting Rights Act, the lawsuit argued.

Statewide, North Carolina has grown increasingly competitive, seeing a tight race last year that unseated a Democratic senator and voting for President Barack Obama in 2008 but his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, in 2012.

Although there are some differences in the legal provisions involved in the Alabama and North Carolina cases, the challengers cited the Alabama opinion in appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The justices split 5-4 in the Alabama case, with maverick conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the four liberal justices to revive the case.

The March opinion, by Justice Stephen Breyer, held the Voting Rights Act doesn’t prescribe “a particular numerical minority percentage” in each district. Instead, the court said, it requires the state “to maintain a minority’s ability to elect a preferred candidate of choice,” which potentially doesn’t require a supermajority or even majority of minority-group voters.

Write to Jess Bravin at jess.bravin@wsj

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Posted by on Mar 31, 2015

Supreme Court asks Virginia panel to reexamine redistricting decision

The Washington Post

By Jenna Portnoy and Robert Barnes

March 30 at 5:00 PM
The Supreme Court on Monday told a federal judicial panel in Virginia to take another look at its decision that lawmakers improperly packed minority voters into one congressional district.

The court sent the case back to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia without comment, following its decision last week in a similar case from Alabama.

In the Alabama case, the court ruled 5 to 4 that lower court judges should look more closely at whether lawmakers made race the predominate factor in drawing new district lines after the 2010 census.

[Supreme Court hands win to opponents of Alabama redistricting plan]

In Virginia, a three-judge federal district court panel ruled in October that the Virginia General Assembly must draw new congressional maps, because the current plan concentrates African American voters into a single district at the expense of their influence elsewhere.

Both the Virginia and Alabama cases hinge on when it’s legal to use race to draw district boundaries.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs in the Virginia case, along with several independent experts, said it is unlikely that the federal court in Virginia will make a different ruling this time around.

“I wouldn’t expect anything to change,” said Marc Elias, who represented two voters from the district where the redistricting in question took place.

Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who runs a blog about redistricting, said nothing in the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Alabama case gives the Virginia court any reason to alter its original ruling.

“Alabama strengthened the trial courts’ decision against Virginia,” he said. “Essentially the accusations against Virginia that the trial court found to be true are really, really, really close to the accusations against Alabama.”

But Michael A. Carvin, who is representing former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Virginia’s Republican congressional delegation in their appeal of the lower court’s decision, drew the opposite conclusion. “We’ve always been confident in our defense and there’s no reason to think differently now,” Carvin said.

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Posted by on Nov 17, 2014

John Hood says gerrymandering played a role in election results

John Hood says gerrymandering played a role in election results

John Hood, Chairman of the conservative think tank, The John Locke Foundation, believes that we need an impartial, fair and nonpartisan process for redistricting in North Carolina.

Here’s an excerpt from one of his recent columns in the Winston-Salem Journal-

Finally, Democrats say they lost because of gerrymandering. This explanation, at least, has some truth to it, although it has no bearing on the Tillis-Hagan race. Favorable districts have clearly boosted the number of Republican victories for Congress and state legislature. Still, GOP candidates got 56 percent of the statewide vote for U.S. House and 54 percent for the General Assembly. They’d have won most of the seats in 2014, anyway. Again, keep in mind that the Republicans won the legislature in 2010 despite running in pro-Democratic districts. I’m all for redistricting reform, but Democrats need not be so fatalistic. If they had recruited stronger candidates in more districts and spent their money on a more effective message, they’d have done better.

Read the full article HERE ->

 

 

 

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Posted by on Sep 8, 2014

Former Members of US House and Senate agree ending gerrymandering can help make our government work

Former Members of US House and Senate agree ending gerrymandering can help make our government work

In its report, the bipartisan Commission on Political Reform makes 65 recommendations designed to solve problems afflicting the country’s political process. Reporter Tim Funk of The Charlotte Observer compiled a few that are getting the most attention. Including:

Problem: Congress spends too little time legislating.

Solution: The House and Senate should schedule synchronized, five-day workweeks in Washington, with three weeks in session followed by a one-week recess.

Problem: The White House and Congress don’t talk to each other enough.

Solution: The president should hold monthly meetings with congressional leaders. Those leaders should invite the president to attend joint caucuses twice a year.

Read the full list on the right-hand side of this article: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/09/06/5154752/former-washington-insiders-think.html#.VC9JAmSwJ58

Read the commission’s report here –> bipartisanpolicy.org/projects/commission-political-reform.

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