A last-minute effort to overhaul the state's judicial maps before the legislative session ends generated fierce debate at a committee hearing Monday, but passed on a party-line vote and was sent to the House floor for debate.
The proposal, sponsored by Representative Justin Burr, R-Montgomery and Stanly, would alter the state's existing judicial districts by redrawing prosecutorial districts as well as district and superior court lines—an effort critics say is an attempt to stack the bench with Republican judges.
"I believe it's partisan gerrymandering, and it's based on the majority party trying to get an edge in terms of the judges in the state of North Carolina. I do not feel like we should be interfering with the judicial system this way," Representative Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson, told the INDY.
Duane Hall, a Wake County Democrat, predicted that the new lines would result in 14 districts that would likely elect Democrats compared to 41 Republicans at the district court level, and a 45–12 GOP advantage at the superior court level.
"This is a major, major piece of legislation," Hall said. "I've gotten over two hundred and fifty calls today about this. I take this extremely seriously. This is racial gerrymandering."
Burr bristled in response to accusations of gerrymandering, arguing that the existing maps were drawn decades ago under Democratic rule and subsequently tweaked whenever a Republican judge was elected. As an example, he pointed to Mecklenburg County, where around half of the population elects two of the county's seven judges. His bill, he said, was "correcting gerrymandering. We are fixing problems of the past!"
But the bill's opponents—including N.C. Voters for Clean Elections and the League of Women Voters—didn't buy it.
"Maybe the U.S. Supreme Court wasn't clear when the nation's highest court told you to redraw our state's gerrymandered maps. You told the public you were too busy with the budget to redraw unconstitutional legislative districts. Instead, you are embarking on the biggest challenge of our judiciary in over fifty years—done in secret, behind closed doors, and without public input," said Melissa Price Kromm of N.C. Voters for Clean Elections.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Game The System"