Little time to rule as North Carolina remapping trial begins

RALEIGH, NC (AP) – A rapid redistribution trial began Monday, designed to determine whether new North Carolina congressional and legislative maps contain illegal gerrymanders that need to be redrawn or can be used in this year’s election.

Three state trial judges have begun hearing testimony from attorneys for plaintiffs in lawsuits that allege district boundaries approved by the Republican-controlled legislature in November are marred by extreme partisanship and racial prejudice that make the GOP majorities almost unbreakable. Republicans say the lines are legal, drawn using a transparent process that avoids racial and partisan data.

Outside groups analyzing the lines project that GOP candidates would be favored to win at least 10 of the 14 US House seats next fall, and to preserve or expand the current Republican majorities in the House and Senate from state, although North Carolina’s statewide elections are generally tightly divided. .

North Carolina won an additional seat in the House based on population growth in the 2020 census. Republicans currently hold eight of the state’s 13 congressional seats, so the reconfiguration of the state’s GOP could help the party to take back the house of the United States.

This case is on a fast track, with no opening statements and only three days to present evidence to the three judges. Pleadings are Thursday.

The quick timeline is the result of the state’s Supreme Court, which last month ordered judges to hear the redistribution disputes and rule by January 11 – after which appeals are expected. Meanwhile, judges postponed the primary from March 8 to May 17 last month.

The three Superior Court justices – Graham Shirley, Nathaniel Poovey and Dawn Layton – initially refused last month to issue preliminary injunctions against the boundaries, saying there was reasonable doubt as to whether the lines violated the constitution of the state. But the judges told them to watch again.

In 2019, another three-judge panel said there was evidence that GOP lawmakers created extreme partisan gerrymanders when drawing US House Districts in 2016 and Legislative Districts in 2017. The legislature redesigned the cards in time for the 2020 election.

One of the lawsuits heard on Monday was filed by the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, mathematicians and voters, the other by voters backed by a group affiliated with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

University of Michigan political science researcher Jowei Chen, a key witness to Democratic plaintiffs, compared the new United States House map to the computer-generated dividing lines that follow population changes and approved rules by lawmakers.

Out of 1,000 computer-generated congressional plans, Chen said, no more than 3% of them generated proposals in which Republicans were to win 10 seats based on the recent results of the nationwide election. State. And Republican-created districts protect GOP candidates so much that it’s nearly impossible for Democrats to win more than four seats in a good year for their party, Chen data shows.

The plan “is a statistical outlier in its partisan spirit and creates a level of Republican bias that cannot be explained by the political geography of North Carolina or by the criteria adopted by the General Assembly.” Chen told the plaintiffs’ attorney, Lali Madduri.

In cross-examination, Patrick Lewis, an attorney for Republican lawmakers, sought to tone down beliefs that lawmakers produced an extreme map. He pointed out that Chen’s analysis found that the most common outcome still gave Republicans a good chance of winning nine of the 14 seats. And very few results would give Democrats a solid chance to win seven of the seats – a result many party members see as a fair result.

Another expert on the plaintiffs who testified, Duke University math professor Jonathan Mattingly, said he and his varsity team helped generate 100,000 non-partisan cards each for the State House and Senate. .

The political results generated by legislative and congressional borders show “a systematic pro-Republican bias” that would preserve the GOP majorities in these chambers, Mattingly said.

A landmark redistribution decision by the state Supreme Court in the early 2000s revealed that the General Assembly “may consider partisan advantage” in the design of districts.

On the eve of the trial, Senate Leader Phil Berger said he remained convinced that the maps drawn by Republicans were “within the law and highly constitutional.”

“I continue to believe that the maps that we drew were drawn according to the rules that we established in the Senate, that these maps should be approved by the courts,” Berger told reporters late last week.

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