4th Cir. Gives New Life to N.C. Redistricting Battle

     (CN) – Wake County, N.C., residents may show that a 2013 redistricting of their school board election map disenfranchises black voters, the 4th Circuit ruled Wednesday.
     Thirteen citizens of Wake County, the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African-American Children, and the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association have challenged a state law that has redrawn board of education electoral districts.
     In their suit against the state of North Carolina and the Wake County Board of Elections, they say that under the new redistricting plan, some citizen’s votes will get significantly more weight than other’s in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees of one person, one vote, and the N.C. Constitution’s promise of equal protection.
     In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court found that U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle erred in dismissing the plaintiffs’ suit.
     The plaintiffs assert that the new voting districts drawn by the Republican-led state legislature are of unequal size and lessens the voters of urban voters while strengthening those of rural and suburban voters.
     The state argues that the redistricting plan meets all legal requirements and that the lawsuit is political.
     U.S. Circuit Judge James Wynn Jr., writing for the majority, said it was the obligation of the courts to consider whether the 2013 plan violates the Fourteenth Amendment.
     “At the end of the day, we cannot say whether plaintiffs will ultimately succeed with their equal protection claim,” he wrote. “But we can say that they have made allegations sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss for failure to state such a claim. The district court erred in holding otherwise.”
     The plan was put into place by a board of education that was majority Republican, but in the fall of 2011, elections resulted in a board with a Democratic majority. The plaintiffs say that because the new plan resulted in Democratic victories, the Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly passed a local bill making numerous changes in the method of selection.
     “No Democratic member of the legislature voted for it, and no African-American member of the legislature voted for it,” the lawsuit said.
     Central to the plaintiffs’ complaint, the law changed the board’s make-up from nine single-member districts to seven single-member districts and set less geographically compact boundaries for this new set of districts. The law also created “super districts.” One super district forms a donut of “outer, rural areas of the county” while the other forms a hole in the “inner urban” area.
     In addition, the law prohibits the board from “making any further changes in its method of election until 2021.” The plaintiffs contend that Wake County is now burdened with some overpopulated districts were votes will be diluted by other under-populated districts.
     The plaintiffs say that the redistricting is intended “to disfavor incumbents who are registered Democrats and support progressive education policies.”
     In her dissent, U.S. Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz said that the school board races are nonpartisan and that the lawsuit was asking the court to “referee a dispute as to ‘policy.'” Motz says the majority is plunging federal judges into precisely the sort of dispute the Supreme Court has told them to avoid.
     “The allegations in the complaint, taken in the best light for Plaintiffs, do not set forth facts that plausibly rebut the presumption of constitutionality afforded this plan,” Motz wrote. “Contrary to the majority’s contention, dismissal of the complaint here is not for want of ‘an opportunity to develop evidence before the merits are resolved.’ It is for want of allegation of facts that would permit a court to believe Plaintiffs could establish a viable claim.”

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