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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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North Carolina lawmakers give 9th District GOP voters option to dump Mark Harris

General Assembly overrides Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of bill requiring primaries in rerun elections

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

RALEIGH (CFP) — North Carolina Republicans will now be able to dump their embattled candidate in the nation’s last undecided U.S. House race, after the General Assembly overrode Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of bill changing state election law.

Under the new law, if state elections officials decide to rerun the 9th District race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready, both parties will hold primaries, rather than simply redoing the general election.

Mark Harris

That would allow Republicans to replace Harris, whose campaign has become embroiled in an investigation into irregularities in absentee voting in Bladen County, a rural outpost at the edge of the district.

Had the law not been changed, Republicans would have been stuck with Harris as their nominee, raising concerns about losing the seat to McCready in the wake of the investigation.

The controversy over the 9th District race now turns to Washington, where the incoming Democratic majority is expected to refuse to seat Harris pending the outcome of the investigation.

The State Board of Elections. has scheduled a January 11 hearing on the results of the investigation and will then decide whether to order a new election in the 9th District race.

Republicans voted to override Cooper’s veto on December 27, just four days left before they were set to lose their legislative super-majority that has allowed them to override Cooper repeatedly over the last two years.

Cooper’s objection to the law was not over the new primary requirement but a different provision that shielded campaign finance complaints against elected officials from public disclosure.

Republicans hold a two-thirds majority in both houses of the General Assembly, and they have overridden more than 20 of Cooper’s vetoes since he took office in 2017. However, because of Democratic gains in November, the GOP super-majority will go away in January, although Republicans will still control both houses.

The state elections board refused to certify Harris’s unofficial 905-vote lead over McCready after reports surfaced that a political operative working for Harris’s campaign, McRae Dowless, had hired people to collect absentee ballots in Bladen County, a practice that is illegal in North Carolina.

Bladen County also had an unusually high number of absentee ballot requests, and Harris carried the absentee vote by 24 percentage points, a much higher percentage than elsewhere in the district, which stretches across eight counties from suburban Charlotte toward Fayetteville.

Harris has said that he personally made the decision to hire Dowless, but he said he did not know Dowless was doing anything illegal.

Dowless has not spoken publicly about the allegations but has denied any wrongdoing to local media.

McCready, who conceded to Harris on election night, has withdrawn his concession and is now raising money for a rematch.

Also possibly waiting in the wings for Harris in Republican primary is the man who now holds the seat, U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, whom Harris defeated by just 828 votes in the May primary after taking 96 percent of the absentee vote in Bladen — results that have come under renewed scrutiny since the state board’s refusal to certify the general election results.

Harris, 52, a Baptist pastor and prominent religious conservative activist, is making his third bid for political office, after losing a U.S. Senate race in 2014 and the 9th District race in 2016.

McCready, 34, a former Marine officer and Iraq War veteran, is making his political debut.

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North Carolina legislators pass compromise ending trangendered bathroom ban

But compromise measure prevents cities from passing protections for LGBTQ people

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

RALEIGH (CFP) — After a year of turmoil and economic boycotts, North Carolina legislators have passed a compromise bill that rolls back HB2, a law which prohibited transgendered people from using restrooms in public facilities that didn’t conform with their their birth gender.

However, the bill hammered out by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and leaders of the Republican-controlled legislature also forbids local jurisdictions in North Carolina from passing non-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBTQ people until at least 2020, a compromise that left LGBTQ advocates seething.

“Lawmakers and Governor Cooper have failed to resolve the problems with HB2 by doubling down on discrimination,” said Chris Sgro executive director of Equality NC. “Once again, the North Carolina General Assembly has enshrined discrimination into North Carolina law.”

“Lawmakers must reject this disgraceful backroom deal that uses the rights of LGBT people as a bargaining chip,” said Sarah Gillooly, policy director for the ACLU of North Carolina. “It is shameful that legislative leaders and North Carolina’s governor are once again rushing through a discriminatory anti-LGBT measure without proper vetting or an opportunity for public input.”

The bill to repeal HB 2 passed March 30, less than 12 hours after the compromise between Cooper and legislative leaders was unveiled. The House approved the repeal 70 to 48; the Senate, 32 to 16.

Cooper, who as attorney general refused to defend HB2 when it was challenged in court, campaigned for governor in 2016 on a pledge to repeal the law. Just a week before the compromise was reached, Equality NC was lauding Cooper for insisting on full repeal.

Attorney General Roy Cooper

In a statement issued after the repeal bill was unveiled, the governor conceded that it was a compromise from the outright repeal initially sought.

“It’s not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation,” Cooper said.

The compromise bill was passed the same day that the NCAA was to decide whether to remove all of its events from North Carolina until 2022 in protest of the transgendered bathroom exclusion.

HB2 was pushed through the GOP-controlled legislature in March 2016 in reaction to the decision by the Charlotte City Council to pass a human rights ordinance protecting LGBTQ people, which included the right of transgendered people to use restrooms and locker rooms that comport with their gender identity, rather than their birth gender.

The new law set off a firestorm of controversy. The NBA, ACC and NCAA all pulled events from the state, and a number of businesses halted plans to relocate or expand there.

The governor at the time, Republican Pat McCrory, bore the brunt of the nationwide backlash to the law. Last November, he was the only Republican governor to lose his seat, in a campaign dominated by the HB2 controversy.

Under the repeal measure, local jurisdictions would no longer be able to regulate use of bathroom facilities in public buildings, as Charlotte tried to do. Only the legislature could enact such regulations, but, after repeal of HB 2, no regulations currently exist. In essence, while transgendered people would not specifically be barred from using facilities that comport with their gender identity, they would also not have a legal right to do so.

However, the second part of the repeal bill prevents Charlotte or any other jurisdiction in North Carolina from passing LGBTQ anti-discrimination measure for the next three years.

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