by Jane Porter
The plaintiffs contend that the congressional map adopted by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2011 violates the Fourteenth Amendment: race was the predominant consideration with respect to both districts, and the General Assembly did not narrowly tailor the districts to serve a compelling interest. The court agrees.
The ruling by the three-judge panel in federal court comes more than two years after David Harris, a registered voter in Durham County, filed a lawsuit with Christine Bowser and Samuel Love, both registered voters from Mecklenburg County, seeking an invalidation of the two districts, which were represented at the time by Democrats — G.K. Butterfield in District 1 and Mel Watt in District 12.
Their challenge came after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June of 2013 opened a new legal front for challenging the maps.
The 1st Congressional District according to the lawsuit, is “akin to a Rorschach inkblot” that weaves through 24 counties, containing only five whole counties. The district is mostly in the northeastern part of the state and includes Durham, Elizabeth City, Roanoke Rapids, Rocky Mount, Goldsboro and New Bern.
The length of the district’s perimeter, according to the lawsuit, is 1,319 miles - “almost precisely the distance from Chapel Hill to Austin, Texas.”
The three voters contended that the Republican-led General Assembly that designed the maps in 2011 "ignored the common rural and agricultural interests" of Coastal Plain residents that federal courts have previously recognized. Durham, the newly added urban center, constitutes 25 percent of the district’s population.
The 12th Congressional District is 120 miles long but only 20 miles wide at its widest part. The district includes large portions of Charlotte and Greensboro connected by a thin strip — “averaging only a few miles wide” - that follows Interstate 85.
The three-judge panel ruled that the 1st Congressional District, which spreads like an octopus across northeast North Carolina and has a tentacle that dips into Durham County, and the 12th Congressional District, which snakes along Interstate 85 between Greensboro and Charlotte, were drawn specifically so that the majority of voters in each were black.
"There is strong evidence that race was the only nonnegotiable criterion and that traditional redistricting principles were subordinated to race," Judge Roger Gregory wrote for the court. "In fact, the overwhelming evidence in this case shows that a (black voting-age population) percentage floor, or a racial quota, was established in both CD 1 and CD 12. And, that floor could not be compromised."