From Advocacy groups, Democratic elected officials and voters challenging North Carolina’s new redistricting plans want rulings on their legality by mid-February.
Advocacy groups, Democratic elected officials and voters challenging North Carolina’s new redistricting plans want rulings on their legality by mid-February.
RALEIGH, N.C. — Advocacy groups, Democratic elected officials and voters challenging North Carolina’s new redistricting plans want rulings on their legality by mid-February, but the state’s lawyers argue a “rush to judgment” is unreasonable and the judicial branch is reluctant to delay the 2012 elections.
Attorneys on both sides of a pair of lawsuits filed a month ago seeking to block new Republican-penned legislative and congressional districts from taking effect have filed motions and responses in recent days. While they largely agree on consolidating the two cases into one, the attorneys are at odds over how fast the matter should be considered by a special three-judge panel. Judges on the panel announced Monday they would hear arguments Dec. 16 on the fast-track timeline and consolidation.
One lawsuit filed Nov. 3 by dozens of voters and Democratic legislators and another filed the next day by civil rights and election watchdog groups argue the maps originally approved in July are illegal for generally the same reasons. The lawsuits contend the district lines illegally cluster black voters to decrease their electoral power, cross too many county boundaries and split too many precincts, causing chaos among voters and a re-segregation of communities.
The GOP lawmakers who drew the maps have said they comply with state and federal rules and legal precedent. They point to U.S. Department of Justice attorneys declining to challenge the boundaries on the basis of certain racial discrimination grounds as proof the boundaries are lawful.
The cases are important because the GOP-drawn maps, if approved, could assist the party in winning as many as four additional congressional seats this decade and retaining their new majorities in the state House and Senate. Eddie Speas, a Raleigh lawyer representing voters and elected officials who filed one lawsuit, offered a litigation calendar to the judges that would lead to a trial on the combined lawsuits in early February. The candidate filing period begins Feb. 13.
Should a court strike down the maps later, new maps would be drawn by the Legislature or the courts. It could require a new filing period based on new boundaries and delay of the scheduled May 8 primary. Redistricting litigation delayed the 2002 and 2004 primaries. “The relief sought by the plaintiffs in this action, if granted, will substantially affect the 2012 elections process,” Speas wrote in his Nov. 18 motion. A similar motion was filed by lawyers suing in the second redistricting case. “Disruption and uncertainty will be minimized if this matter can be tried and decided by this Court before the opening of the filing period,” he added.
The state Attorney General’s Office, defending the maps on behalf of legislative leaders and the state, offered its own plan in which there would be at least four months to collect evidence so it could respond to several hundred numbered allegations and dozens of named plaintiffs. The lawsuits, filed more than three months after the Legislature initially completed its work, could have been filed earlier, Special Deputy Attorney General Alex Peters wrote.
The scheduling “request is unprecedented, unreasonable on its face and would force the court to rush to judgment regarding the constitutionality of redistricting plans duly adopted by the General Assembly and affecting all North Carolinians,” Peters wrote in a Nov. 29 response opposing the accelerated calendar. Peters said the most recent state Supreme Court ruling involving redistricting showed the justices are wary about disrupting the electoral process. The justices declined in August 2007 to direct the General Assembly to correct a few Wilmington-area districts before the May 2008 primary, he wrote.
In a response filed late last week, Speas said his timeline is not unreasonable and Peters’ arguments forget that state courts blocked the 2002 primary election from going forward when the statewide legislative maps were challenged, as is being done now. Those maps were declared unconstitutional. Speas, a former general counsel to Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue, worked on behalf of the state in defending maps a decade ago with the state Attorney General’s Office.
Read more: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/12/05/1692070/nc-redistricting-hearing-to-focus.html?story_link=email_msg#ixzz1fm69twpf
Source: News and Observer