New North Carolina congressional districts challenged in federal court on racial bias claims

Dec 4, 2023, 3:18 PM

RALEIGH. N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Black and Latino voters sued in federal court on Monday seeking to strike down congressional districts drawn this fall by Republican state legislators that they argue weaken minority voting power in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court challenges four districts where the plaintiffs contend GOP leaders in charge of the General Assembly moved around groups of voters that minimizes the voting strength of minorities while beefing up the Republican’s partisan advantage. They want a new map drawn.

The map enacted in October puts Republicans in good shape to win at least 10 of the state’s 14 congressional seats next November. Under the iteration of the congressional map that had been drawn by state judges for the 2022 elections, Democrats and Republicans each won seven seats. The shift could help Republicans on Capitol Hill retain control of the U.S. House.

“North Carolina’s minority populations have long suffered from voting discrimination and vote dilution and as a result have endured persistent disparities in political representation,” the lawsuit reads, adding that “the state’s newly enacted congressional redistricting plan exacerbates these issues.”

The lawsuit filed by 18 individuals challenging the 1st, 6th, 12th and 14th Congressional Districts as racial gerrymanders was filed the same day that candidate filing began for those seats and other positions on the ballot in 2024. The 1st District, covering many rural, northeastern districts, and the Charlotte-area 12th District are currently represented by Black Democrats.

While the plaintiffs seek to prevent the state’s full congressional map from being used in elections, their filings don’t immediately seek a temporary restraining order preventing their use in 2024. Candidate filing ends Dec. 15 for the March 5 primaries.

State House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican and one of several lawsuit defendants, said the lawsuit contains baseless “allegations” and a “desperate attempt to throw chaos into North Carolina’s elections, on the first day of candidate filing no less. We are fully confident that these maps are going to be used in this election and every election this decade.”

The lawsuit contends that minority voters were harmed by the new Greensboro-area 6th District because they were removed from the previous 6th District and distributed to surrounding districts that are heavily Republican. This weakened their voting strength while also making the new 6th a GOP-leaning district, the lawsuit said. Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning is the current 6th District member.

Republican mapmakers also unlawfully diluted the voting strength of minority voters in the 1st District by removing from the district reasonably compact minority communities in Pitt County, the lawsuit said. Democratic Rep. Don Davis is the current 1st District lawmaker.

Looking at Charlotte and points west along the South Carolina border, the lawsuit alleges that Republicans removed minority voters out of the 14th District and into the adjoining 12th District so that the 14th was no longer a district where white voters could join up with minority voters to elect their preferred candidate. Meanwhile, the number of minority voters grows in the 12th, which is represented by Rep. Alma Adams of Charlotte.

Rep. Jeff Jackson, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, already said he’s running for state attorney general, saying he can’t win reelection under the new congressional map. Moore, the House speaker, is now running for the 14th District seat.

Two years ago, the state Supreme Court suspended candidate filing for the 2022 elections while state lawsuits challenging congressional and legislative redistricting maps initially approved by the General Assembly in fall 2021 could be reviewed.

The state’s justices struck down those maps, ruling in February 2022 that Republican lawmakers conducted unlawful partisan gerrymandering, and ordered new maps be drawn. But a new edition of the state Supreme Court with a majority of Republican justices essentially reversed that ruling in April, opening the door for GOP legislative leaders to adjust lines that favor again their party’s candidates.

That ruling, along with an earlier U.S. Supreme Court that prevent similar partisan gerrymandering claims in federal courts. This largely forces the congressional map’s foes to challenge the map on claims of racial bias, which the plaintiffs say date from the Reconstruction era to the recent past.

The latest congressional map “continues North Carolina’s long tradition of enacting redistricting plans that pack and crack minority voters into gerrymandered districts designed to minimize their voting strength,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers write.

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New North Carolina congressional districts challenged in federal court on racial bias claims