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Judges won’t impose redraw of North Carolina U.S. House map before November vote

Decision sidesteps chaos that might have resulted from a new last-minute map

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RALEIGH (CFP) — Less than a week after threatening to throw North Carolina’s congressional election into chaos by redrawing its electoral map, a panel of three federal judges has reversed course and decided not to move forward with a redraw before November.

In a September 4 order, the judges decided that there was not enough time to draw a new map and that altering the current election schedule “unduly disturbs the state’s electoral machinery and would probably confuse voters and reduce voter turnout.”

The order puts on hold a August 27 decision striking down the map drawn by North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature as an unconstitutional gerrymander designed to disadvantage Democrats. However, if that decision is upheld, a new map will have to be redrawn before the 2020 elections.

That decision ordering the lines to be redrawn came just 70 days before the November election and three months after primaries were held using the current lines.

Republican legislative leaders had vowed to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which had issued a stay earlier this year to stop a similar decision by the same panel of judges.

In the majority opinion for the three-judge panel, Judge James Wynn of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that by favoring Republicans, “the redistricting plan passed by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature amounted to “invidious partisanship” that that “runs contrary to the Constitution’s vesting of the power to elect Representatives in ‘the People.'”

Although North Carolina is fairly evenly divided in statewide and presidential elections, Republicans hold a 10-to-3 advantage in the House delegation. Two of those Democrats are African Americans who represent majority-minority districts drawn to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

In January, the same three-judge panel ruled against the state’s map, the first time a federal court had ever struck down a congressional map for being gerrymandered to favor one party.

But in June, the Supreme Court vacated the order and returned the case to the judges in Greensboro to reconsider their ruling in light of its own ruling in a different case.

In their second decision, the judges said their reconsideration of the case did not change their view that the map was unconstitutional.

Since the first ruling was vacated by the Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy has retired and his replacement hasn’t been confirmed, leaving the court with a 4-to-4 split between conservative and liberal factions.

If the issue of staying the new map had gone to the Supreme Court, North Carolina legislators would have needed to persuade five justices to stay the ruling, or the lower court decision would have stood.

Wynn, who previously served on the North Carolina Supreme Court, was appointed to the appeals court by President Barack Obama and was joined in his majority opinion by U.S. District Court Judge William Britt, a senior-status judge appointed by President Jimmy Carter.

The third judge on the panel, U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen Jr., was appointed by President George W. Bush; he dissented from part of the majority’s reasoning in ruling, although he concurred with the remedy of redrawing congressional lines.

Chaos in Carolina: Judges strike down U.S. House map now used in Tar Heel State

Ruling could leave November 6 election in confusion unless U.S. Supreme Court intervenes

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RALEIGH (CFP) — A panel of three federal judges has once again struck down North Carolina’s U.S. House map as being unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans, ordering that the lines be redrawn just 70 days before the November election and three months after primaries were held using the current lines.

The ruling could sow significant confusion into congressional races unless the U.S. Supreme Court steps in to stay the ruling, something it did with a previous ruling earlier this year. It also has implications for partisan control of the House if a redraw of the map creates more districts where Democrats can compete.

State House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, both Republicans, announced they will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, saying in a statement that implementing the ruling “would irreparably disrupt campaigns from both major parties across the state that have been organizing, raising money and trying to win over voters.”

But Bob Phillips, the executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, one of the plaintiffs who challenged the map, hailed the court’s decision.

“We’re pleased that a North Carolina federal court has once again stated what we have long believed, that extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional,” he said in a statement. “This is a historic win for voters, and a significant step towards finally ending gerrymandering.”
In the majority opinion for the three-judge panel, Judge James Wynn of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that by favoring Republicans, the redistricting plan passed by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature amounted to “invidious partisanship” that “runs contrary to the Constitution’s vesting of the power to elect Representatives in ‘the People.'”

Although North Carolina is fairly evenly divided in statewide and presidential elections, Republicans hold a 10-to-3 advantage in the House delegation. Two of those Democrats are African Americans who represent majority-minority districts drawn to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

In January, the same three-judge panel ruled against the state’s map, the first time a federal court had ever stuck down a congressional map for being gerrymandered to favor one party.

But in June, the Supreme Court vacated the order and returned the case to the judges in Greensboro to reconsider their ruling in light of its own ruling in a different case.

In their August 27 decision, the judges said their reconsideration of the case did not change their view that the map was unconstitutional.

Since the first ruling was vacated by the Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy has retired and his replacement hasn’t been confirmed, leaving the court with a 4-to-4 split between conservative and liberal factions. If North Carolina legislators can’t persuade five justices to stay the ruling, the lower court decision will stand.

The three-judge panel declined to let November’s election go forward with the current map pending appeal, despite the fact that primaries had already been held in those districts.

Wynn suggested that the general election could proceed without primaries or that the state could hold new primaries on November 6 and then conduct the general election later.

The judges also indicated they would bring in a special master to draw a new map rather than returning it to legislators to redraw.

Attorneys in the case were given until August 31 to submit proposals for a remedial plan to comply with the ruling.

Wynn, who previously served on the North Carolina Supreme Court, was appointed to the appeals court by President Barack Obama and was joined in his majority opinion by U.S. District Court Judge William Britt, a senior-status judge appointed by President Jimmy Carter.

The third judge on the panel, U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen Jr., was appointed by President George W. Bush; he dissented from part of the majority’s reasoning in ruling, although he concurred with the remedy of redrawing congressional lines.

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, sent a tweet accusing Wynn of being an “activist” judge who was “waging a personal, partisan war on North Carolina Republicans.”

Southern congressmen join effort to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein

Effort to oust official overseeing investigation of 2016 Russian election meddling fizzles after opposition from House leaders

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Four Southern U.S. House members are part of a group of 11 Republicans who introduced articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the official overseeing the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — only to back down after the plan ran into opposition from House Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein

Now, instead, the group will seek to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress if the Justice Department does not fully comply with requests for documents about the Russia probe.

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina was one of the primary sponsors of the impeachment resolution filed July 25, along with Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. Three other Southern members — Jody Hice of Georgia, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee — signed on as co-sponsors.

However, the impeachment resolution was tabled the next day, after Meadows and Jordan met with House GOP leaders, including Ryan, who had said he did not support Rosenstein’s impeachment and would not bring it forward for a vote.

The congressmen who pushed the impeachment are all members of the Freedom Caucus, a group of about three dozen of the most conservative House Republicans that emerged in 2015 out of the Tea Party movement.

Members of the caucus have been among President Donald Trump’s strongest defenders in Congress — and among the harshest critics of Mueller’s investigation of possible coordination between Russian agents and Trump’s campaign, which the president has dismissed as a “witch hunt.”

The impeachment articles fault Rosenstein for not producing documents subpoenaed by a House committee and for approving a warrant request for surveillance of Carter Page, who was a national security adviser to the 2016 Trump campaign.

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina

In a joint statement with Jordan and the other co-sponsors, Meadows said Rosenstein — who has been overseeing the Mueller probe since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself after acknowledging contacts with the Russian ambassador — “has made every effort to obstruct legitimate attempts of Congressional oversight.”

“The stonewalling over this last year has been just as bad or worse than under the Obama administration,” he said. “It’s time to find a new Deputy Attorney General who is serious about accountability and transparency.”

Meadows represents North Carolina’s 11th District, which takes in the state’s far western panhandle.

Hice, who represents the 10th District in east-central Georgia, decried “a culture of stonewalling and misdirection” that he said has “permeated the highest levels” of the Justice Department and the FBI.

Gaetz, who represents the 1st District that in the western Florida Panhandle, said the request to put Page under surveillance was “likely improper” and that Rosenstein’s actions have “weakened Americans’ faith in the intelligence community and in seeing justice served.”

DesJarlais accused Rosenstein of refusing to produce documents “because they implicate top Department of Justice and FBI officials, including himself.”

“His own role in fraudulent warrants and wiretapping the President’s campaign is a major conflict of interest that renders him unfit to oversee the Special Counsel or DOJ,” said DesJarlias, who represents the 4th District in south-central Tennessee.

Rosenstein and the Justice Department have not commented on the impeachment articles.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana

While Ryan and other GOP leaders were cool to the idea of impeaching Rosenstein, the effort did get support from the  highest-ranking Southerner in the House GOP caucus — Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who told Fox News that “putting impeachment on the table is one more tool” to get the Justice Department to provide documents.

Scalise, who represents the 1st District in suburban New Orleans, is reportedly considering a bid to succeed Ryan as speaker after he retires in January — a contest in which members of the Freedom Caucus will play a key role.

But another Southern Republican — U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida — had harsh words for the impeachment effort, taking to Twitter to denounce it as a “reckless publicity stunt.”

“No different from Dems who filed articles of impeachment against the President some months ago. What a sad, pathetic game of ‘how low can you go?'” Curbelo said.

Curbelo, who represents a South Florida district Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, is considered one of the most endangered House Republicans in the 2018 cycle.

U.S. Supreme Court lets congressional maps stand in Texas, North Carolina

Rulings may leave current maps will be in place until after reapportionment in 2021

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Republican legislators in Texas and North Carolina have both dodged a bullet after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to invalidate congressional maps in both states that lower courts had struck down as illegally gerrymandered.

In the Texas case, the justices rejected a claim that state legislators impermissibly used race to draw electoral maps. In the North Carolina case, they vacated a lower court decision holding that the state’s map unconstitutionally diluted the voting strength of Democrats and ordered the case to be reconsidered.

The high court’s June 25 decisions mean that neither state is likely to face a court-ordered redraw in this election cycle. And while the North Carolina case could be reconsidered for the 2020 election, the ruling in the Texas case likely means that the current map will be used until after new maps are drawn in 2021, based on the results of the 2020 census.

In their decison in the Texas case, the justices ruled 5-to-4 that a lower court erred in finding back in 2017 that a congressional map and state House maps adopted in 2013 should be struck down because they were impermissibly drawn using racial considerations. The Supreme Court had put that ruling on hold while it considered the state’s appeal.

The two congressional districts involved in the lawsuit were the 27th District, which stretches along the Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi toward Houston, and the 35th District, which covers parts of Austin and San Antonio linked by a narrow strip of land.

The lower court’s objection to the 27th District was the GOP-controlled legislature reduced the Latino population from 70 percent to around 50 percent. The objection to the 35 District was that legislators used race to create a district that is more than 70 percent Latino and African American, reducing minority populations in surrounding districts.

The 27th District, currently vacant, has been held by Republicans since it was redrawn. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a white Democrat from Austin, represents the 35th District.

In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said the evidence offered by the plaintiffs “is plainly insufficient to prove that the 2013 Legislature acted in bad faith and engaged in intentional discrimination.” The justices did uphold a ruling that a Texas House district in Fort Worth was an impermissible racial gerrymander.

But in her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the court’s decision means minority voters in Texas “will continue to be underrepresented in the political process.”

“Those voters must return to the polls in 2018 and 2020 with the knowledge that their ability to exercise meaningfully their right to vote has been burdened by the manipulation of district lines specifically designed to target their communities and minimize their political will,” she wrote.

In the North Carolina case, the justices vacated a 2018 ruling by a three-judge panel that the congressional map adopted by Republican legislators in 2016 was unconstitutional because it diluted the voting strength of Democrats — the first time that a federal court had ever struck down a congressional map on the grounds of political, rather than racial, gerrymandering.

The Supreme Court had also put that ruling on hold while it considered an appeal.

The Tar Heel State’s map had been redrawn in 2016 after a previous map had been struck down for improperly using racial considerations. GOP lawmakers freely admitted that they were drawing lines to maximize the number of Republican-friendly seats, which the lower court found was evidence of unconstitutional partisan taint.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to North Carolina to be reconsidered in light of a ruling earlier this year in case involving a partisan gerrymander in Wisconsin. In that case, the high court sidestepped the question of whether drawing maps that favor one party over another can be found unconstitutional, returning the case to a lower court on narrow jurisdictional grounds.

The court’s order did not indicate how, or if, justices were split on the merits of the case.

While North Carolina is divided fairly evenly in presidential races and has a Democratic governor, Republicans hold a commanding 10-to-3 margin in the U.S. House delegation.

Texas, which leans more Republican, has 24 Republicans and 11 Democrats in its delegation, with one seat vacant.

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger goes down in North Carolina GOP primary

Races now set in three competitive seats Democrats are targeting in November

CHARLOTTE (CFP) — The fields are now set for three competitive U.S. House races in North Carolina, including the 9th District where Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger has become the first incumbent to go down to defeat in the 2018 election cycle.

Mark Harris

Pittenger. seeking his fourth term in Congress, was defeated in the May 8 primary by Mark Harris, a prominent Baptist pastor from Charlotte. Harris took 49 percent, to 46 percent for Pittenger.

“From the beginning, this race has been about giving the people of this district a voice, and you have stood up tonight across the 9th District, and you have made that voice loud and clear,” Harris told supporters at a victory celebration in Indian Trail.

Harris will now face Democrat Dan McCready in November for a metro Charlotte seat that Democrats have high hopes of flipping.

McCready, a Marine Corps veteran and solar energy entrepreneur, easily won the Democratic primary. The most recent Federal Election Commission reports show that he has so far raised $1.9 million for the fall race, about three times as much as Harris.

Harris is the former senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charlotte and former president of the State Baptist Convention of North Carolina. In 2012, he helped lead the fight for a state constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage, and he made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

The race in the 9th District, which includes parts of Charlotte and its southern and eastern suburbs and stretches east to Fayetteville, was a rematch of a primary battle between Pittenger and Harris in 2016 that the incumbent won by just 134 votes; this time, Harris won by 814 votes.

Pittenger had the backing of House Republican leaders, and Vice President Mike Pence came to North Carolina to campaign for him. Harris countered with anti-establishment campaign that painted Pittenger as part of the Washington “swamp.”

In addition to the 9th District, Democrats are eyeing two other seats, the 2nd District and the 13th District, in an attempt to cut into the GOP’s dominance in the Tar Heel State’s congressional delegation, where Republicans hold 10 of 13 seats.

In the 2nd District, centered in metro Raleigh, Democrat Linda Coleman had an easy primary victory and will now face Republican U.S. Rep. George Holding in November.

Coleman, a former state representative and Wake County commissioner, was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in both 2012 and 2016. However, she starts the general election with a substantial financial disadvantage against Holding, who is seeking his fourth term.

That is not the case in the 13th District, where the Democrats’ nominee, Kathy Manning, has raised $1.3 million and has $1 million in cash on hand, outstripping the Republican incumbent, U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, who has raised $880,000 and has just $362,000 on hand, according to FEC records.

Manning, a lawyer from Greensboro, is making her first bid for elective office in the district, which stretches from the northern suburbs of Charlotte to Greensboro. Budd, first elected in 2016, is trying to win a second term.

In 2016, President Donald Trump carried the 2nd District by 10 points, the 9th District by 12 points and the 13th District by 9 points.

U.S. Supreme Court stays ruling striking down North Carolina U.S. House map

Decision means 2018 primaries can proceed in existing districts

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) – The U.S. Supreme Court has indefinitely stayed a ruling by a panel of three federal judges that invalidated North Carolina’s U.S. House map for unconstitutionally diluting the voting strength of Democrats.

The January 18 decision by the high court means state legislators will not have to redraw the map for the 2018 midterm election, a prospect that threatened to throw the election process into chaos.

The Supreme Court’s unsigned order stays the ruling “pending the timely filing and disposition of an appeal by this court.”

While the order did not indicate how many of the justices were in favor of granting a stay, it did note that two members of the court’s liberal bloc, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, wanted to deny the application for a stay filed by Republican lawmakers.

Common Cause North Carolina and the League of Women Voters of North Carolina sued to invalidate the House map passed by the GOP-controlled legislature in 2016, arguing that the Republican majority improperly used political considerations in drawing the map.

No federal court had ever a stuck down a congressional map for being gerrymandered for political, rather than racial, reasons. But the majority opinion from three-judge panel who heard the case said partisan gerrymandering – a common political practice in many U.S. states – violates a “core principle of republican government” that “voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”

The January 9 ruling gave state lawmakers just 20 days to draw a new map, an order that is now on hold until the Supreme Court considers the appeal. Qualifying for the May 8 primary is scheduled to begin Feb. 28.

The high court is already considering similar cases involving state legislative districts in Wisconsin and Maryland that could set a precedent for the North Carolina case.

Should the ruling in North Carolina be upheld on appeal, it could have significant effects in other Southern states where Republican state legislative majorities have gerrymandered maps to their advantage, particularly Florida, Virginia and Texas.

Democrats cheered the ruling, which could help them make a dent in the GOP’s 10-to-3 advantage in North Carolina’s congressional delegation. But Republicans accused the judges of “waging a personal, partisan war” against the state GOP.

Ironically, what may have sunk the North Carolina map was the explicit admission by GOP lawmakers back in 2016 that they were drawing lines to maximize the number of Republican-friendly seats – an admission made to overcome objections to a previous map struck down for improperly using racial considerations.

After the map was redrawn in 2016, several incumbent lawmakers were forced to run in new territory and one, former U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, didn’t survive after she was forced to run against another incumbent in a Republican primary. However, the new map did not change the overall party composition in the state’s House delegation.

The 2016 map has allowed Republicans to hold on 77 percent of the state’s congressional seats, even though election results have been closely divided between the parties in recent statewide and presidential elections.

Donald Trump carried North Carolina by just 4 points in 2016, as Democrat Roy Cooper squeaked into the governorship by a margin of less than 1 percent.

The redistricting case was heard by James Wynn, a judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; W. Earl Britt, a senior U.S. District Court judge in Raleigh; and William Osteen Jr., a U.S. District Court judge in Greensboro.

Wynn and Britt were appointed by Democratic presidents; Osteen, who dissented from part of the ruling while concurring in striking down the map, is a Republican appointee.

Federal judges strike down North Carolina’s U.S. House map over gerrymandering

Ruling could have an impact on other Southern states with partisan maps

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RALEIGH (CFP) – In an unprecedented decision, a panel of three federal judges has struck down North Carolina’s U.S. House map, ruling that Republican lawmakers unconstitutionally diluted the voting strength of Democrats by gerrymandering the map for political reasons.

The panel’s majority opinion said partisan gerrymandering – a common political practice in many U.S. states – violates a “core principle of republican government” that “voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”

The January 9 ruling gives state lawmakers just 20 days to redraw the map; if they don’t, a new map will be redrawn by a special master appointed by the court. However, GOP legislative leaders are vowing to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could leave the current map in place until the appeal can be heard.

If the Supreme Court doesn’t issue a stay, significant chaos will be injected into the Tar Heel State’s 2018 election, with qualifying for candidates supposed to begin Feb. 28 for a May 8 primary.

The ruling marked the first time that a federal court has stuck down a congressional map for being gerrymandered for political, rather than racial, reasons. However, U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering similar cases involving state legislative districts in Wisconsin and Maryland that could set a precedent.

The judicial panel in the North Carolina case found unanimously that the map violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution and ruled 2-1 that it also violated the free speech rights of Democrats.

Should the ruling in North Carolina be upheld on appeal, it could have significant effects in other Southern states where Republican state legislative majorities have gerrymandered maps to their advantage, particularly Florida, Virginia and Texas.

Democrats cheered the ruling, which could help them make a dent in the GOP’s 10-to-3 advantage in North Carolina’s congressional delegation. But Republicans accused the judges of “waging a personal, partisan war” against the state GOP.

Ironically, what may have sunk the North Carolina map was the explicit admission by GOP lawmakers back in 2016 that they were drawing lines to maximize the number of Republican-friendly seats – an admission made to overcome objections to a previous map struck down for improperly using racial considerations.

After the map was redrawn in 2016, several incumbent lawmakers were forced to run in new territory and one, former U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, didn’t survive after she was forced to run against another incumbent in a Republican primary. However, the new map did not change the overall party composition in the state’s House delegation.

The 2016 map has allowed Republicans to hold on 77 percent of the state’s congressional seats, even though election results have been closely divided between the parties in recent statewide and presidential elections.

Donald Trump carried North Carolina by just 4 points in 2016, as Democrat Roy Cooper squeaked into the governorship by a margin of less than 1 percent.

The redistricting case was heard by James Wynn, a judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; W. Earl Britt, a senior U.S. District Court judge in Raleigh; and William Osteen Jr., a U.S. District Court judge in Greensboro.

Wynn and Britt were appointed by Democratic presidents; Osteen, who dissented from part of the ruling while concurring in striking down the map, is a Republican appointee.

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