North Carolina redistricting will go from ‘legislature to the lawyers,’ expert says

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – With people able to watch live online, state lawmakers began the process of drawing new electoral district maps Wednesday, as experts predicted a legal battle likely will follow once the maps are approved.

Following the 2020 Census, the Republican-controlled General Assembly is tasked with creating new districts for both chambers of the state legislature and the U.S. House based on shifts in the state’s population.

“If the past 40 years’ worth of history tell us anything, North Carolina redistricting will go from the legislature to the lawyers,” said Dr. Michael Bitzer, an expert in politics at Catawba College. “This process reflects the dynamic that redistricting is the most intensely partisan activity in American politics.”

In recent years, courts have thrown out maps generated by in North Carolina for racial and partisan gerrymandering.

Due to North Carolina’s population growth, the state is gaining a seat in the U.S. House, bringing the total to 14.

“The maps, however they are drawn, will likely include this 14th Congressional district (this new Congressional district in the state) to be a Republican-leaning district,” Bitzer said.

Republicans leading the state’s redistricting effort are aiming to have maps approved by the end of the month, which could then be subject to legal challenges depending on how they’re drawn. Candidate filing for the 2022 primary begins Dec. 6.

“The dynamics of what we have seen from the Biden Department of Justice with the statement about Section 2 and the Voting Rights Act, to the former Attorney General Eric Holder who has targeted North Carolina as a potential litigation site over redistricting. I think this going to end up probably in both state and federal court,” Bitzer said. “It’s anybody’s guess how that will go, but the process probably will play itself out all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Legislators have set up two rooms where the public can watch the redistricting process live and see edits made to proposed maps as they occur.

“Is there this map that’s already been drawn? I would have to say of course there is. They’re not starting, really, with a blank canvas,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause NC. “It’s only transparent to a point.”

With Democrats in Congress holding slim majorities leading into the 2022 midterm elections, Phillips expects there to be intense national attention on what lawmakers approve.

“I suspect that folks are coming in knowing what they need to do, that the maps both sides want will be drawn,” he said. “Is this more of a performance? I would have to say in some ways it is because we don’t have an independent entity.”

Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston County) is one of the members overseeing the process in his chamber.

“Historically speaking, I think no matter what we do there’s probably already litigation in a can somewhere just with blanks waiting to be filled in,” he said. “Maybe we can get through just once without a string of litigation.”

Sen. Ben Clark (D-Hoke County), who is not running for re-election to the General Assembly but still undecided on a run for Congress or another office, said he’s concerned about racial data not being included in the process and the “lack of ability to analyze the maps to make sure they’re compliant with the (Voting Rights Act).”

“If we don’t have transparency then the potential for lawsuits is quite high. But, if we have transparency, then when things are being done improperly, they can be called out at that time and hope corrections can be made,” he said.

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