On October 26, 2017, a three-judge panel announced that it intends to appoint a “Special Master” to assist the court in evaluating, and possibly re-drawing, NC Legislative districts so that NC will have constitutional voting districts for the NC House and NC Senate.
This is a preliminary order – the court will file a more detailed order with more specifics.
I have gotten a LOT of questions, so I am going to do a “quick & dirty” recap here:
WHICH CASE IS THIS AGAIN?
This is the case about the racial gerrymandering of North Carolina’s state legislative districts, Covington v. North Carolina. In “Covington”, the US Supreme Court affirmed the US 4th Circuit’s finding that 9 of the NC state Senate Districts and 19 of the NC State House Districts were unconstitutional because they were racial gerrymanders in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The 28 districts found to be unconstitutional were drawn in 2011 by an out-of-state private consultant, Tom Hofeller, at the direction of Sen. Rucho and Rep. David Lewis behind closed doors in private meetings.
Back on August 11, 2016, the US District Court had ordered the NCGA to redraw the legislative districts at its “next legislative session” – but the NCGA held a bunch of “special sessions” an entire “long session” and refused to draw the maps. Then, the court had to go back and order them to redraw the maps AGAIN, and they had Tom Hofeller draw them again.
The Court has said that of the redrawn district maps, it has “concerns” about 9 of the districts (and of those 9, a few were NOT part of the original 28, or abutting the original 28). These are the 9 districts on the remedial maps that the plaintiffs challenged. The court has NOT yet ruled on the constitutionality of the remedial maps.
WHAT IS A “SPECIAL MASTER”?
Basically, a “Special Master” is a specialist that the court can appoint to help them in a number of ways. A Special Master is often appointed to help with technical or specialized matters by either simply advising the court, or making sure the court orders are followed.
Redistricting is highly technical and complex, so it is not surprising that the Court would want the help of an expert.
WHO IS THIS “SPECIAL MASTER”?
The court has said it intends to appoint Professor Nathanial Persily, a highly experienced and respected redistricting expert. His resume is attached to the Order . Redistricting law expert Justin Levitt says Persily is “”rigorous, conscientious, nonpartisan, and unquestionably expert”.
HOW MANY DISTRICTS WILL BE REDRAWN?
We don’t actually know yet for sure. We will know more when the more detailed order appointing a Special Master is filed; although we may still not know yet if the Special Master will just review the districts or actually be involved in redrawing the districts.
The Court had already ruled (and US Supreme Court affirmed) that 28 districts of the 2011 legislative district maps were unconstitutional. The 9 districts the Court said it was “concerned” about in today’s order are 9 districts on the remedial – or redrawn – district maps that the legislature drew THIS YEAR in response to the Court order.
The Special Master, once officially appointed, will evaluate and make recommendations about the districts. Possibly the Special Master will also re-draw unconstitutional districts.
WHAT DO THE MAPS LOOK LIKE NOW?
The NC General Assembly’s proposed 2017 remedial maps can be found on the NCLeg website (as well as lots of other interesting information), but you have to dig around. Links to the proposed remedial maps are below.
Link to 2017 House Map: http://www.ncleg.net/documentsites/committees/house2017-183/2017%20House%20Redistricting%20Plan/Stat%20Pack%20for%20Proposed%20Plan/2017%20House%20Redistricting%20Plan%20with%20Insets.pdf
DOES THIS MEAN WE ARE DONE WITH THIS?
North Carolina will still need redistricting reform – and the only way to do that is to make it an election issue.
You can call your representatives in the NCGA, and ask them to support an open, impartial process and fair, independent criteria that does not intentionally or unduly favor or disfavor any political party for drawing Congressional, NC House and NC Senate Districts.
Successful redistricting reform requires: 1) a transparent process for redistricting with meaningful citizen participation and access at all levels and steps of the process, 2) impartial redistricting criteria with NO use or consideration shall be made of the address of incumbents.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON GERRYMANDERING AND REDISTRICTING:
You can find links to the NC maps, and other related information on the NC Legislature website.
More redistricting resources are available on the “National Conference of State Legislatures” page.
Check out this Redistricting Blog by a Loyola Law School professor and his interns.
This Election Law blog covers all voting rights issues, including redistricting.
The “Citizen’s Guide to Redistricting” put out by the Brennan Center for Justice has a good overview of redistricting; however, note that it is from 2010 and the sections on the Voting Rights Act are no longer accurate because of more recent court cases.
For a great overview of the history of redistricting in North Carolina and applicable law, read this illuminating law review article, “Race as a Tool in the Struggle for Political Mastery: North Carolina’s ‘Redemption’ Revisited 1870-1905 and 2011-2013“. It is really good.