N.C. Legislative Districts Must Be Redrawn in 2018

     (CN) – A legislative district map twice used to elect members of the North Carolina General Assembly in unconstitutional because several of its districts are racially gerrymandered, a panel of federal judges ruled Thursday.
     But despite this conclusion, the 167-page ruling says the maps will be in effect for this year’s upcoming election, because to order wholesale changes now would cause a “significant and undue disruption to North Carolina’s electoral process and create considerable confusion, inconvenience, and uncertainty among voters, candidates and election officials.”
     U.S. Circuit Judge James Wynn Jr. wrote the court’s decision on behalf of a panel that also included U.S. District Judges Thomas Schroeder and Catherine Eagles.
     They found 28 of the current legislative districting map’s 170 district were racially gerrymandered, and ordered lawmakers to redraw them in time for use in the 2018 elections.
     Thirty-one voters sued the state on May 19, 2015, claiming North Carolina’s legislative districting map needlessly increased the percentage of black voters in districts where voters were already electing candidates of their choice.
     The lawsuit was filed in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in an Alabama districting case that said a lower court should reconsider whether state legislators there had weakened the influence of minority voters by placing them in a limited number of districts.
     According to the complaint, during a redistricting effort in 2011, lawmakers created non majority-black Senate districts where in the past, none had been majority black, and 23 majority-black house districts where only 10 had been majority black previously.
     “The General Assembly’s racial gerrymander is further evidenced by the objective characteristics of the Challenged Districts in which traditional districting principles were plainly subjected to race, resulting in bizarrely shaped and highly non-compact districts that cross natural geographical boundaries and split political subdivisions with impunity,” the complaint said.
     In February, the U.S. Supreme Court chose to leave intact a lower court ruling compelling the North Carolina legislature to draw up a new electoral districting map to rectify racial gerrymandering in two of its districts.
     That ruling set the stage for Thursday’s decision.
     In a statement the lawmakers who oversaw the drawing of the map, state Sen. Bob Rucho and Rep. David Harnett, said they were disappointed by the district court’s opinion.”
     “However, we are relieved for voters that the district court did not disrupt the current election that is already underway. Our attorneys are currently reviewing today’s ruling and evaluating next steps,” they said.
     The ruling comes two weeks after the Fourth Circuit threw out North Carolina’s restrictive Voter ID laws, holding the rules were drafted with racial intent to unconstitutionally suppress the minority vote.

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