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North Carolina Supreme Court strikes down Republican-drawn U.S. House, legislative maps

Court says politically gerrymandered maps violate state constitution, orders legislators to try again

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

North CarolinaRALEIGH (CFP) – North Carolina’s Supreme Court has struck down political maps drawn by Republican legislators to maximize their political advantage over the next decade, a victory for Democrats in one of the country’s most evenly divided swing states.

In a February 4 decision, the high court, which has a 4-to-3 Democratic majority, said maps drawn for U.S. House seats and state legislative districts were gerrymandered for political reasons in violation of the state constitution.

north carolinaThe court gave legislators just two weeks, until February 18, to redraw the maps, or a lower court will take over the process. It did not delay the scheduled May 17 primary but said that election must use the new maps.

“Achieving partisan advantage incommensurate with a political party’s level of statewide voter support is neither a compelling nor a legitimate governmental interest,” said the majority ruling, penned by Associate Justice Robin Hudson, a Democrat.

The court also ordered legislators to avoid chopping up counties into multiple districts whenever possible – a direct shot at the Republican map, which divided Mecklenberg and Guilford counties into three districts each to dilute the Democratic vote in Charlotte and Greensboro.

In a sharply worded dissent, Chief Justice Paul Newby, a Republican, accused the court’s Democratic majority of usurping the legislature’s power to decide redistricting, suggesting that amounted to “judicial despotism”

“A majority of this court … tosses judicial restraint aside, seizing the opportunity to advance its agenda,” Newby wrote.

North Carolina is one of just six states where judges are elected on a partisan basis.

Although North Carolina is closely competitive between Democrats and Republicans, the U.S. House map drawn by Republican legislators would have likely given the GOP 10 of the state’s 14 seats, compared to the current line-up of eight Republicans and five Democrats. (The state gained a new seat during reapportionment after the 2020 census.)

The legislative maps would also have cemented Republican control of both houses of the legislature over the next decade.

Democratic Governor Roy Cooper did not have the power to veto the maps, drawn by Republicans who control both houses of the legislature, forcing Democrats to go to court to try to reverse them.

The biggest beneficiary of the court’s decision may be freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning, whose district in Greensboro and Winston-Salem was dismembered in the invalidated map. She had not announced her re-election plans, pending resolution of the legal challenge.

Another Democrat, U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield –- a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus who sat on the state Supreme Court before his election to Congress — retired after legislators made his district in rural Eastern North Carolina more competitive by reducing its population of black voters.

Democratic U.S. Rep. David Price from Chapel Hill also announced his retirement, even though his district was left largely intact.

After Republican legislators passed their map, U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn announced that he would leave his current district in far Western North Carolina and run instead in a more Republican district just to the east that included suburban Charlotte. Those plans may be upended once the map is redrawn.

Another candidate who may be affected is Clay Aiken, the “American Idol” finalist who announced he would run as a Democrat for Price’s seat. Although the new map is not likely to change that district, had it stood, Aiken may have faced a primary contest against Manning, rather than a easier run for an open seat.

Cooper hailed the court’s decision in a statement, saying “a healthy democracy requires free elections and the NC Supreme Court is right to order a redraw of unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts.”

“More work remains and any legislative redraw must reflect the full intent of this decision,” he said.

But Republican State Senator Ralph Hise, chair of the Senate’s redistricting committee, called the decision a “perverse precedent” that will be “nearly impossible to unwind.”

“Democratic judges, lawyers, and activists have worked in concert to transform the Supreme Court into a policymaking body to impose their political ideas,” Hise said.

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8 Southerners named to panel to hash out deal on border security

Conference committee will have until February 15 to reach agreement to avoid another shutdown

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Congressional leaders have named eight Southerners to a 17-member conference committee that will try to come up with a border security compromise to avoid another government shutdown on February 15.

Six Republicans and two Democrats from the South were named to the joint House-Senate panel, which was set up to hash out an agreement after legislation to reopen the government passed on January 26.

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby

The list of Senate conferees includes Richard Shelby of Alabama and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, both Republicans. None of the four Southern Democrats who serve in the Senate were selected.

On the House side, all four of the GOP conferees are from the South — Kay Granger of Texas, Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, Tom Graves of Georgia, and Steve Palazzo of Mississippi.

Two Southern Democrats are among the six Democrats picked for the panel by House Speaker Nancy PelosiDavid Price of North Carolina and Henry Cuellar of Texas.

The conference committee has seven members from the Senate (four Republicans and three Democrats) and 10 members from the House (six Democrats and four Republicans.)

All of the Southern members on the conference committee serve on either the House or Senate appropriations committee, which controls federal spending.

Shelby is chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Granger is the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, which is controlled by Democrats.

President Donald Trump and congressional leaders agreed to reopen the government until February 15 in order to come up with a compromise on funding for border security.

Trump has asked for $5.7 billion to build a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, an idea which Democratic leaders oppose.

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North Carolina governor decides to leave House seat vacant for nearly a year

Governor Pat McCrory says holding a special election for vacant 12th District seat would be too costly and inefficient

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

north-carolina mugRALEIGH (CFP) — Democratic leaders and the NAACP in North Carolina are crying foul after Republican Governor Pat McCrory announced that no separate election will be held to fill the 12th District seat of former U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, who resigned January 13.

North Carolnia Governor Pat McCrory

N.C. Governor Pat McCrory

Instead of separate election, voters in the majority-minority district will pick Watt’s replacement at the same time they decide on their next congressman during the normal 2014 election cycle.

As a result, the strongly Democratic district will have no representation until at least November, leaving the seat vacant for more than 300 days.

State NAACP President William Barber blasted McCrory’s decision, calling it “undemocratic political bullying.”

“Taxation without representation is a form of tyranny,” Barber said in a statement. “Surely there can be a fair formula worked out to ensure that all the people of the 12th District will have their voice heard in this historic session of Congress.”

Two Democratic members of the state’s House delegation, U.S. Reps. David Price and G.K. Butterfield, also called on McCrory to reconsider, saying the decision not to call a special election is “unprecedented in recent congressional history.”

“The assumption that North Carolina is better served by having one less advocate in the House for nearly a full year than by finding a cost-effective way to minimize the vacancy is seriously misguided,” the congressmen said in a letter to the governor.

“The fact that your decision requires so many of our state’s citizen’s to forgo their constitutionally guaranteed right of representation for twice as long as common practice is indefensible.”

The U.S. Constitution mandates that any vacancies in the House be filled by special election, unlike the Senate, where governors can make replacements until the next general election.

Article One, Section Two reads: “When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.”

McCrory is actually calling a special election to fill the vacancy,  but it will be held simultaneously with the primary and general election that would normally be held.

Under McCrory’s timeline, primaries for both the vacant seat and the general election will be held  on May 6, with runoffs, if needed, on July 15. On November 4, voters in the district will decide both who will replace Watt immediately and who will take the seat when Congress convenes next January.

Presumably, different candidates could run in those separate elections, although that would seem unlikely.

Price and Butterfield noted that six vacancies during the current session of Congress have been filled by special election within an average of 126 days. After the late U.S. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young of Florida died in October, it took only 145 days until the state held a primary election to pick his replacement on January 14.

But McCrory said that having a separate election to fill the seat sooner would cost the state more than $1 million.

“Because of the various filing deadlines, ballot preparation time, state and federal calendar requirements for ballot access, voter registration deadlines and to avoid voter confusion, it was determined the most efficient  process would be to roll the special election into the already established primary and general election dates,” McCrory said in a statement announcing his decision.

The 12th District snakes across six counties in the central part of the state from Charlotte to High Point, including parts of Greensboro and Winston-Salem. It was created after the 1990 U.S. Census as a majority-minority district under the Voting Rights Act and is about 45 percent black and 7 percent Latino.

President Obama took nearly 79 percent of the vote in the district in 2012.

Former U.S. Rep. Mel Watt

Former U.S. Rep. Mel Watt

Watt, 68, who has held the seat since it was created, resigned after being appointed by  Obama to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

McCrory’s decision comes on the heels of a racially charged debate last summer over a new state law requiring voters to show identification at the polls. Republicans pushed through the law after taking control of the General Assembly in 2012.

The U.S. Justice Department has since sued the state to block the voter ID law from taking effect.

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