RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A trial over North Carolina’s new electoral district maps for Congress and the General Assembly ended Thursday with a decision coming within a few days as to whether the districts will stand or need to be redrawn.
That decision by a panel of three judges is expected to be appealed to the state Supreme Court that ordered this year’s primary election to be delayed until May amid the legal battle over the maps.
Various Democratic and non-partisan groups sued state legislative Republicans, calling the new districts “extreme partisan gerrymanders” meant to keep Republicans in power in Raleigh and help them gain seats in Congress.
“This kind of extreme partisan gerrymandering is an assault on the most basic principles of representative democracy,” Elisabeth Theodore said, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the case during closing arguments. “The plans were intentionally drawn to entrench Republican dominance in North Carolina’s Congressional delegation and in both chambers of the General Assembly.”
Phil Strach, an attorney representing Republican legislative leaders, tried to undercut the analyses of the various experts the plaintiffs called to testify at the trial and who found the maps Republicans produced to be statistical outliers in the way they favored the GOP.
“When I think of these simulation experts, I think about the Wizard of Oz,” he said. “And then what you learn is that the Wizard of Oz was nothing more than the man behind the curtain.”
The Supreme Court accelerated the timeline for this case when the court issued an order last month that abruptly halted the candidate filing period and moved this year’s primary to May 17.
The court also ordered the judges hearing the case this week to issue a decision by Jan. 11 and that any appeal of that decision go directly to the Supreme Court.
“If there’s any threat to democracy here, it’s the plaintiffs’ theories,” Starch said. “They want more Democrats elected in North Carolina. That’s the endgame.”
He continued, “Concoct algorithms to put the thumb on the scale in favor of Democrats and against Republicans and ultimately drive Republicans out of office.”
If the districts ultimately are allowed to stand they’ll be used in elections for the rest of the decade until the next Census in 2030.
Various experts testified that the map Republicans drew for the state’s 14 U.S. House seats favors the GOP winning at least ten of those seats despite the state’s history of close statewide elections.
“There was nothing presented in the trial that really defended that Congressional map. And, that’s what you’d expect if these maps are really legal and fair,” Bob Phillips said, the executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, one of the groups that filed suit.
Additionally, Republicans have said the advantage they have in the maps could be explained in part by the fact that Democrats tend to be more concentrated in urban areas while Republican voters are much more spread out.
However, plaintiffs’ attorneys emphasized that Republicans chose to divide Wake, Mecklenburg and Guilford counties each into three different Congressional districts though none of them has a population so large that it would require them to be split that many times.
Theodore said they “barely even tried to hide how they did it. The plan splits the three largest and heavily Democratic counties in the state.”
During closing arguments, attorneys on both sides referenced the testimony of Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell) who led the redistricting effort on the House side.
Hall has said all along that the process was the “most transparent” in state history but also revealed he privately viewed “concept maps” before going into the public room to draw the map that would ultimately be voted on for the state House of Representatives.
During the trial, he said he viewed those maps for only a “matter of seconds.” Those concept maps were subsequently destroyed.
“The only reasonable conclusion for this court to draw was that Rep. Hall mislead his colleagues and mislead the public,” Hilary Harris Klein said, an attorney representing Common Cause.
Strach dismissed the concern and argued it was an effort to distract.
“If he was using concept plans that had political data and he wanted to do that to help Republicans, then he did a pretty bad job because the maps could have been drawn a lot more to benefit Republicans than they were,” he said. “This is simply the hallmark of a weak case: ignore the actual legislative record, ignore the actual legislative maps and focus on this shiny object in the corner.”