Redistricting hearing over NC maps' legality over
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- A three-judge panel seeking information about the role of race in drawing North Carolina's congressional and legislative maps concluded a two-day trial Wednesday after listening to testimony from redistricting experts, including the consultant who helped draw the current Republican boundaries.
The Superior Court judges heard 10 hours of witness testimony and attorney questions about whether Republican state legislators who approved the boundaries in 2011 went too far in creating majority-black General Assembly districts or made racial considerations their chief concern in drawing other lines. Critics contend that Republicans sought to illegally pack black voters, who have historically favored Democratic candidates, into certain districts to improve the chances of Republicans in other districts.
The judges asked attorneys for more legal filings by early next week. They gave no date as to when they'll rule on motions and other questions stemming from lawsuits filed by Democratic voters and advocacy groups alleging the maps are unconstitutional. Republican legislative leaders and the state want the lawsuits thrown out because they say the boundaries are lawful.
The judges' rulings almost certainly will be appealed because the stakes are high.
Following decades of state government control by Democrats, Republicans who took over the legislature after the 2010 elections drew the current maps that two years later padded their majorities in the legislature and helped them hold nine of 13 seats in North Carolina's congressional delegation. Without intervention, the maps will be used through the 2020 elections.
The judges, who already listened to two days of arguments in February, held the trial to address two issues.
They wanted to explore whether Republican legislators were justified in drawing majority-black districts in some areas of the state where they aren't required to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. Republican mapmakers say creating legislative districts that are more than 50 percent black was a reasonable remedy to avoid potential challenges under the federal law.
Judges Paul Ridgeway of Wake County, Alma Hinton of Halifax County and Joseph Crosswhite of Iredell County also wanted to focus on whether race was the predominant factor in forming six districts, including the 12th and 4th Congressional Districts. That would constitute illegal gerrymandering.
Tom Hofeller, a Virginia-based consultant described in court as the chief architect of the 2011 redistricting plans, testified that politics - not race - were the primary consideration in drawing district boundaries.
Hofeller testified he received instructions from Republican redistricting leaders at the General Assembly to draw the 4th and 12th congressional districts to increase their percentages of Democratic voters, not to increase black voters. The black voting-age population in the 12th District, represented by Democrat Mel Watt for more than 20 years, was increased from 44 percent under the previous map to 51 percent under the current plan. Courts have upheld political considerations in redistricting as lawful.
"There were political goals, but the whole plan was a political plan," said Hofeller, the Republican National Committee's consultant on redistricting after the 2000 and 2010 census.
Watt and other black Democratic elected officials testified Tuesday that racially polarized voting doesn't exist in their areas anymore or has decreased dramatically, shown in part by their own campaign victories. Attorneys for Republican legislative leaders and the state counter that the General Assembly in 2011 received two studies showing the existence of racially polarized voting.
Allan Lichtman, an American University professor and expert on analyzing political data, disagreed with the how mapmakers evaluated the studies' conclusions, particularly one requested by Republican redistricting leaders that found "statistically significant" racially polarized voting.
Lichtman, who testified for the groups who sued over the maps and performed his own analysis, said election results show black voters in districts with black voting-age populations between 40 and 50 percent are able to influence outcomes successfully.
"You're getting majority results for the African-American candidate of choice," he said.
Watt testified Tuesday that Senate redistricting panel Chairman Bob Rucho said to him during a private meeting in 2011 that Republican leaders "had told him that they were going to ramp the 12th Congressional District up to over 50 percent black."
Later Tuesday, Rucho denied saying that, and he repeated his denial Wednesday on the witness stand. Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, who also attended the meeting at Rucho's home, also testified to corroborate Rucho's testimony.