Lawmakers have just one week to present their new legislative maps to a three-judge panel by Sept. 1—and are moving forward with their proposals despite serious objections from the public, voting rights advocates, and members of the General Assembly.
On Friday, lawmakers met to weigh in on the Senate's proposed
legislative maps, which cleared the redistricting committee Thursday night
, and the House redistricting committee's remapping proposal.
Both ended up moving forward. The Senate's redistricting bill passed its second reading while the House redistricting committee green-lighted its remapping proposal. Both chambers are slated to vote on the proposals next week.
Lawmakers were ordered to redraw the districts after the Supreme Court in June sided with a lower court ruling that 28 of the state's 170 legislative districts were illegally racially gerrymandered. The court gave the legislature until Sept. 1 to draw new legislative districts that pass constitutional muster.
In the House redistricting committee, lawmakers spent hours debating and discussing the new proposals along largely partisan lines. As was the case with the Senate redistricting committee last night, Republicans rejected a version of the maps introduced by attorneys from the plaintiffs in the case, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
Attorneys for SCSJ sent a letter
to the Senate and House redistricting committees maintaining that the proposed new maps "do not offer an adequate remedy and do not represent appropriate remedies free from other state and federal constitutional flaws." To remedy that, they submitted
alternative redistricting plans to the legislative committees overseeing the process.
Their maps have not been popular with state Republicans. In Friday's House committee meeting, GOP lawmakers blasted SCSJ's remedial maps and grilled Democratic House minority leader Darren Jackson, who introduced the maps on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Republican Rep. Nelson Dollar called the maps a "political document" and an "attempt to gerrymander for the Democrats' purposes.” GOP Rep. Bill Brawley said the maps were a "partisan gerrymander."
"My people would go crazy if I voted for it," he added.
"You talk about the Democratic gerrymander on this map, what about the Republican gerrymander on your map?" retorted state Representative Mickey Michaux, the civil rights veteran and Democrat from Durham who is prone to long and impassioned soliloquies.
Michaux added that the maps were drawn by the plaintiffs and not using statewide money—a reference to political strategist Tom Hofeller, who is helping Republicans with the mapmaking process for a flat rate of $50,000 and who helped Republicans draw the gerrymandered maps from 2011.
"[The plaintiffs] didn't get $50,000 to draw that map," Michaux said. "They drew it as part of the action they took that found that you had racially gerrymandered these districts. So you can sit up here and talk about it, these people went out and said you did them wrong. And they are trying to correct what you did wrong. I mean, give me a break, folks."
After nearly an hour of debate, the amendment failed along party lines, and the redistricting committee voted to move the House's legislative maps forward.
Voters and lawmakers alike know the stakes are high. Republicans hold supermajorities in both the House and the Senate, which allow them to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's vetoes. Democrats need to win three seats in the House or six in the Senate to break the supermajority and hand Cooper enough power to sustain his vetoes.
Although the new districts have the potential to sway the balance of power in Raleigh, experts say the proposed maps are unlikely do so. Under the new maps, according to an analysis
by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, Republicans need to secure just 46 percent of the vote to hold onto their majority in the House, while Democrats need to win 55 percent of the vote.
“Both the proposed House Plan and the proposed Senate plan will likely provide a large and durable advantage to Republican voters and candidates in the coming two elections,” wrote Ruth Greenwood, the senior legal counsel for the Campaign Legal Center. “By historical standards, these are extraordinarily large figures revealing an enormous Republican edge.”
In both the Senate and House redistricting committees, the two parties have sparred over how race should factor into the mapmaking process. The courts ruled that 28 of the GOP's maps from 2011 were illegally racially gerrymandered, but Republicans, in establishing rules for redrawing those districts, recently decided
not to use race considerations as a factor when drawing the lines. (They did green-light a rule that would allow partisan advantage.).
Republicans have stood by that decision, but Democrats have consistently asked how they would be able to tell if the new maps were also illegal racial gerrymanders if they didn't factor race into the maps.
"The districts were declared unconstitutional because of race," Michaux said
at an earlier hearing. "If you don't use race to correct it, how are you going to show the court that they're not still unconstitutional?"
Second and third readings for the House and Senate versions are expected on Monday.