North Carolina Judges Probe Partisan Bias in Gerrymandering Trial

RALEIGH, N.C. (CN) – The first day of a trial on partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina kicked off Monday, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal in June to wade into the dispute.

A protester makes his feelings known to GOP lawmakers in North Carolina. (Photo by RICH IVEY/Courthouse News Service)

A small courtroom in Campbell University’s Raleigh-based law school on Monday barely overflowed at the start of what is expected to be a two-week debate over a partisan gerrymandering lawsuit brought by the North Carolina Democratic Party, the state’s chapter of democracy advocate Common Cause and more than 30 voters against some Republican North Carolina lawmakers.

Ninety-five out of the 170 House and Senate districts drawn in 2017 in North Carolina violate the state constitution’s free speech and association protections, the plaintiffs’ attorney Stanton Jones of the firm Arnold and Porter said in court Monday.

He said the districts were “designed to ensure Republican majorities in the state’s House and Senate.

Even though a “blue wave” washed over the nation in the 2018 elections, Jones said the Republican majority in North Carolina packed Democrats tightly into areas and spread others out, creating inequity where voting is concerned.

Whether or not the Tarheel State’s Republican-led General Assembly secured a red majority for decades by unconstitutionally drawing Republican-favorable legislative district maps in 2017 took center stage during Monday’s proceedings.

“There is no way to know what a fair map looks like,” Phillip Strach, attorney for Legislature’s Republicans said Monday. “That would require the court to decide essentially how many Republicans and Democrats should be in the Legislature.”

Since the nation’s highest court declined to rule on the issue last month, a three-judge panel comprised of Judges Paul Ridgeway, Joseph N. Crosswhite and Alma C. Hinton will, after hearing testimony from both sides, rule on whether or not to toss existing legislative voting maps in the state and deem the 2017 districts invalid due to partisan gerrymandering on the part of Republican lawmakers.

Strach said during his opening arguments Monday that plaintiffs in the case attempted to “create a boogeyman out of a dead mapmaker,” referring to Thomas Hofeller, who pitched the House and Senate district maps under Republican Senator David Lewis’ direction that guided the 2018 elections. Hofeller died in 2018.

Hofeller’s daughter shared his emails with Common Cause and during a pretrial hearing July 2 – over protest by Republicans – the judges allowed most of the former Republican’s emails to be introduced as evidence at trial.

State Senator Daniel Blue testified Monday that Hofeller used prior elections data to draw House and Senate district maps under the direction of state Senator David Lewis. The maps drawn by Hofeller were meant to replace those drawn by the Legislature in 2011, a year after Republicans took control of the statehouse for the first time in over a century.

North Carolina law prohibits governors from vetoing redistricting maps.

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