Expect more redistricting litigation in North Carolina backed by a national Democratic group that Eric Holder leads unless state Republicans accept anti-gerrymandering reforms this year, the former U.S. attorney general said Friday.
Speaking to the University of North Carolina School of Law, Holder said the state is "in some ways, ground zero for partisan and racial gerrymandering," The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.
"And the only way, I think, to crack that which is happening in North Carolina is through the courts, and use those decisions to get a more fair congressional delegation from North Carolina," said Holder, who under the presidency of Barack Obama was the first Black attorney general.
Holder is now chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which has an arm that helped bankroll lawsuits in 2018 and 2019 challenging North Carolina congressional and legislative districts. The litigation alleged that state lawmakers manipulated lines to maximize GOP seats.
Court rulings caused legislators to redraw districts in late 2019, in time for the 2020 elections. While Republicans maintained majorities in the state House and Senate in November, Democrats picked up two additional seats within the state's U.S. House delegations. Republicans still hold eight of the 13 seats.
Now Republican lawmakers are expected later this year to redraw both sets of boundaries based on 2020 census data. But that information now isn't expected to be delivered to the states until the end of September. That could delay scheduled North Carolina primaries set for March 2022.
While Holder is a Democrat, he told listeners to the online Weil Lecture on American Citizenship that his intention is to get fair maps, not to gerrymander to favor Democrats. Holder said he's keeping close tabs on several states with histories of unconstitutional gerrymandering.
"No matter what political party you support, what policies you advocate, your voice will be stronger if politicians are required to be more responsive to your needs," he said.
Pat Ryan, a spokesman for Republican state Senate leader Phil Berger, called Holder "the worst kind of phony partisan operator."
"He pretends to care about ideals like 'fair maps,' but it's just a veneer to hide his true partisan goal of electing more Democrats," Ryan wrote in an email. A political committee associated with Holder's group gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to the state Democratic Party for the 2018 elections, The News & Observer reported.
Redistricting litigation has been routine in North Carolina since the 1980s. Multiple lawsuits filed by Democrats, civil rights groups and their allies were litigated essentially uninterrupted through the 2010s. Republicans took over the legislature — and the redistricting process — in 2011.
The state constitution exempts redistricting legislation from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto stamp, so he can't block such bills. Republicans leading the 2019 remapping used more transparent methods to refashion the districts than in previous years.