North Carolina District|Map Fracas Sputters

     (CN) – Throwing out two lawsuits accusing North Carolina lawmakers of redrawing district lines based on race, the state’s highest court found no constitutional violation.
     Margaret Dickson and 45 other voters filed suit on Nov. 3, 2011, over redistricting plans that North Carolina lawmakers passed for the state House, state Senate and U.S. House.
     One day later, the North Carolina State Conference of Branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peopled, joined by three other organizations and 46 more individuals, filed a second lawsuit.
     Both alleged that the redistricting plans violate the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by classifying people according to their race.
     After a June 2013 trial on the consolidated cases in Wake County, a three-judge panel ruled for the state.
     Of 30 challenged voting districts, the court applied strict-scrutiny review to 26 that it found were predominantly motivated by race.
     The court noted that the Legislature indisputably created 26 “Voting Rights Act districts,” with a total black voting age population of at least 50 percent. It also observed that all black incumbents elected to the state assembly or to U.S. Congress in 2010 came from majority-black districts or majority-minority coalition districts.
     The North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the ruling for the state on Dec. 19.
     “In light of the interplay detailed below between the Fourteenth Amendment, which virtually forbids consideration of race, and the Voting Rights Act, which requires consideration of race, the Supreme Court has acknowledged that the existence of legislative consciousness of race while redistricting does not automatically render redistricting plans unconstitutional,” Justice Robert Edmunds Jr. wrote for the court.
     Drawing VRA-compliant maps “may be a compelling state interest,” the ruling continues.
     “We are satisfied that the trial court correctly found that the General Assembly identified past or present discrimination with sufficient specificity to justify the creation of VRA districts to avoid section 2 (of the VRA) liability,” Edmunds wrote.
     Justice Cheri Beasley partially dissented, saying the case should be remanded to the trial court for “reconsideration in light of correct principles.”
     The majority “purports to establish the use of race as a legislative safe harbor in derogation of the clear prohibition against such use set forth by the Supreme Court of the United States,” Beasley wrote.
     Justice Bob Hunter did not participate in the consideration or decision of the case.

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