North Carolina legislators on Tuesday rushed to assemble replacement redistricting maps to comply by week's end with a state Supreme Court ruling that found recently approved boundaries violated the constitution by giving Republicans outsized favoritism.
The top Senate and House leaders said they expected committees to debate and vote on maps Wednesday. House floor votes could begin later Wednesday, with the General Assembly enacting some new plans as early as Thursday.
House Speaker Tim Moore told colleagues that their chamber may have to vote on Friday — the last day to turn in the new boundaries to a trial court, a deadline set by justices who declared the congressional and legislative maps were illegal partisan gerrymanders. The new lines, with or without additional adjustments by trial judges, are supposed to be used when candidate filing for the May 17 primary resumes Feb. 24.
In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court struck down the maps Feb. 4 in an order that was less than 10 pages. It wasn't until Monday night that justices released a nearly 140-page opinion that explained why the full maps for North Carolina's U.S. House map and state House and Senate maps violated sections of the constitution protecting free elections and freedoms of speech and association.
The majority accepted that legislators passing maps in November had participated in “intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting,” which voters and advocacy groups who sued said would have ensured GOP control of the U.S. House delegation and the General Assembly in almost any political environment. This contrasts with statewide elections that are almost always closely divided.
Trial judges had ruled last month they could not stop the overtly partisan redistricting because remapping was the job of the legislative branch.
But “the mere fact that responsibility for reapportionment is committed to the General Assembly does not mean that the General Assembly's decisions in carrying out its responsibility are fully immunized from any judicial review,” Associate Justice Robin Hudson wrote for the court's four Democratic justices. A dissenting opinion from the court's three Republican justices written by Chief Justice Paul Newby went over 70 pages.
Moore said Monday's majority opinion provided specific mathematical methods and percentage thresholds that could be followed to help ensure replacement maps comply with the ruling. Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger had lamented the lack of details as they scrambled over fashioning boundaries.
“We feel confident that we're going to have maps on all fronts that comply fully with those metrics, so that what we pass should be upheld by the trial court and by the Supreme Court,” Moore told reporters.
Replacement plans were still being worked on Tuesday in private. Berger said Senate Republicans and Democrats led by Sen. Dan Blue were trying to hammer out a compromise on the chamber's district lines. Moore said that House Republicans and Democrats were working separately on their district boundaries, but that he and Minority Leader Robert Reives were talking.
A consensus congressional plan was still being worked out. Any changes were likely to ensure Democrats would be in good shape to win at least five seats — one more than expected in the map that was struck down — and would improve their chances to win others. The state currently has 13 congressional districts but gains a 14th seat this year due to population growth.
Moore said the House was attempting to address complaints that Democratic strongholds of Wake, Guilford, and Mecklenburg counties each had been divided among three U.S. House districts. Moore said the House was trying to limit splits in these counties to no more than two districts.
Representatives of interest groups backing voting rights and racial equity praised the Supreme Court ruling at a Tuesday morning news conference outside the Legislative Building.
“This historic decision affirms voters' rights to freely choose their own representatives, and prevents any politician from any party from intentionally drawing voting maps for their own personal gain,” Reggie Weaver with the North Carolina Black Alliance said.
Despite Friday's deadline, dozens of groups wrote a letter demanding a transparent mapmaking process that included drawing the maps in public and disclosing the names of everyone involved. With members of both parties working behind closed doors, complying with such requests were unlikely.
“Before those maps are redrawn, we need the voices of the people to be heard," the Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the national Poor People's Campaign, said at a separate news conference later Tuesday. “Don't rush and do a compromise. Let's do it right and make sure it's constitutional.”