Special master possible in gerrymander caseBy Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Contributor / October 20, 2017
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As a federal hearing in North Carolina’s own partisan gerrymandering case involving congressional districts commenced this week in Greensboro, a three-judge panel still reviewing redrawn legislative redistricting maps seemed to hint that they aren’t pleased with what Republican lawmakers came up with, especially with race not being considered in the equation, and have asked both the state and plaintiffs to recommend possible special masters who would ultimately redraw fairer voting districts in time for the 2018 midterm elections.
Day One of the partisan gerrymandering hearing saw expert witnesses taking the stand, testifying how much of an “extreme statistical outlier” the 2016 congressional maps dawn by Republican voting district mapmaker Tom Hofeller are.
Hofeller also drew the 2011 N.C. legislative maps that were found to be unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court because they “stacked-and-packed” N.C. Black voters into 28 out of 170 voting districts, thus lessening their influence in elections.
In the case of the 2016 congressional elections, out of 13 N.C. congressional districts, Republicans were elected to 10 of them. Blacks were drawn into the First Congressional District, currently represented by Congressman G. K. Butterfield; the Fourth with Rep. David Price; and the Twelfth District with Congresswoman Alma Adams, all three Democrats.
Expert witnesses testified that based on their studies, a 10-3 Republican majority congressional map had to be deliberate, given that, using the same information and calculations, they were able to come up with many more maps that allowed 7-6 Republicans to Democrats, or 7-6 Democrat to Republican congressional combinations.
Partisan gerrymandering is legal, unlike racial gerrymandering, but that could change per upcoming rulings.
The North Carolina League of Women Voters and the nonpartisan group, Common Cause, are the plaintiffs suing the state of North Carolina, claiming, similar to the partisan gerrymandering case in Wisconsin, that the U.S. Supreme Court is considering, that allowing Republican legislatures to draw partisan majorities deprives citizens of fair and equal representation in government, resulting in severely lop-sided electoral results.
Observers say it should be impossible for a state like North Carolina, which is evenly divided politically, to still have anything like a 10-3 Republican-leaning congressional delegation.
The U.S. Middle Court hearing in the 2016 partisan gerrymandering should hear final testimony today.
Also in Greensboro last week, the federal three-judge panel is currently deciding whether the redrawn 2011 N.C. legislative maps in the Covington v. State of North Carolina case, submitted by the Republican-led N.C. General Assembly in late August, pass legal muster. Plaintiffs have charged that the legislative effort has fallen short, and an independent “special master” designated by the court may have to be brought in to redraw the redrawn maps.
Nineteen state House districts and nine state Senate districts in the original 2011 redistrict maps were found to be racially gerrymandered by the federal courts. When Republican lawmakers finally redrew the maps this summer, they removed race as a consideration in the criteria, but plaintiffs suing the state countered that the new maps were just as bad.
After a hearing and a barrage of questions for both sides, the court seemed to side with the plaintiffs that the state could not be trusted to correct their maps, and asked both sides to submit the names of three experts they all agreed could serve as special masters to redraw the maps.
That list of names was due to the court Wednesday after the Peacemaker’s press deadline.
Regardless of this court’s decision, observers say expect it to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, possibly eating up more time before the February filing deadline for legislative candidates for the 2018 midterm elections.