Objection Filed Against Unconstitutional Districts in New Legislative Redistricting Plan

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Plaintiffs in Covington v. North Carolina filed pleadings with North Carolina’s Middle District Court today, objecting to certain House and Senate districts recently adopted by the state legislature because they do not remedy all of the constitutional violations previously found by the court.  The objection also notes that the legislature unnecessarily redrew some legislative districts that were not found to be racial gerrymanders and did not touch any district that was found to be unconstitutional.  Altering those districts amounts to mid-decade redistricting, which is prohibited by Article II, Sections 3(4) and 5(4) of the North Carolina Constitution (See http://bit.ly/NCarolinaConstitution,p. 6).

“What we filed today is no different from what we told the General Assembly before they passed these new districts.  They failed to cure the illegal use of race in several areas of the state.  It is now the Court’s responsibility to fix the problem,” said Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and lead attorney for the plaintiffs. “Further, the legislature violated the North Carolina Constitution by redrawing districts in Wake and Mecklenburg counties that should not have been touched.”

 

Racial gerrymanders were not cured in four districts

There are two Senate Districts and two House Districts in the newly drawn plan that do not remedy the racial gerrymanders previously found by the court: Senate Districts 21 and 28, and House Districts 21 and 57.  Not all districts with high black voting age populations are being challenged by the plaintiffs, though.  The objection points out:

Plaintiffs are not objecting to all of the redrawn districts that are close to or greater than 50% black in voting age population. … Plaintiffs’ objection to these four districts is not based solely on the racial composition of the districts but rather includes circumstantial evidence including the shapes of the districts and the populations contained within them.  While the implications of this data may be contested, the facts themselves, the compactness scores, the district lines and the census data, are not contested.  (Covington Objection, p. 20 – 21)

 

Five districts in Wake and Mecklenburg counties were unnecessarily redrawn

Aside from its failure to fully cure the racial gerrymanders, the General Assembly also exceeded the authority given to it by the court’s order by redrawing districts that should not have been touched. This violation of the state constitutional prohibition on mid-decade redistricting was found in Wake and Mecklenburg counties.  The objection points out that House Districts 36, 37, 40, and 41 in Wake County and House District 105 in Mecklenburg County should not have been redrawn during the redistricting process. (Covington Objection, p. 35-37)

As part of the legislative redistricting process, the Covington plaintiffs submitted a redistricting proposal that cured the racial gerrymandering violations and did not run afoul of the state constitution by redrawing districts that should have been left untouched. The General Assembly rejected those maps.

Given the unconstitutionality of the redistricting plan adopted by the General Assembly, the objection asks the court to order the state to conduct the 2018 state legislative elections using the recently enacted:

2017 Senate Districts with the Plaintiffs’ proposed districts in the 1) Guilford, 2) Mecklenburg and 3) Cumberland county groupings; and their 2017 House Districts with the Plaintiffs’ proposed districts in the following county groupings:  1) Guilford, 2) Wake, 3) Mecklenburg, 4) Rowan, Cabarrus, Stanly, and 5) Lee, Harnett, Johnston, Wayne, Greene, Sampson and Bladen. In the alternative, Plaintiffs request that the Court sustain their objections and order a special master to redraw the districts in these limited county groupings.  (Covington Objection, p. 43)

“We are asking the court to step up and do what the legislature has continually failed to do – give North Carolinians fair districts that do not discriminate or violate the state constitution,” Earls concluded.

All of the documents related to this filing can be found at http://www.southerncoalition.org/covingtonobjection/

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Background about this case:On June 5, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court summarily affirmed a lower court’s decision in Covington v. North Carolina that 28 of North Carolina’s state legislative districts are racial gerrymanders.  The decision was issued “per curiam,” meaning by a unanimous decision of the Court. The ruling came two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court found two of the state’s congressional districts were also racial gerrymanders.

On July 31, 2017, North Carolina’s Middle District Court ordered the North Carolina General Assembly to redraw legislative maps by September 1, 2017 in order to remedy the unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.  The legislature adopted new maps on August 30, 2017.

Plaintiffs were required to file any objections to the newly draw district plans by September 15, 2017.

Plaintiffs in Racial Gerrymandering Case Release Redistricting Plan

DURHAM, N.C. – The plaintiffs in Covington v. North Carolina submitted alternative redistricting plans earlier today to the legislative committees in charge of the redistricting process. Attorneys for the plaintiffs also submitted a letter to members of the House and Senate committees, outlining problems with the legislature’s proposed redistricting plan and pointing out the constitutional violations that exist in the maps.

 

“The maps put forth by our clients achieve several key objectives that are not found in the extremely partisan maps offered by legislative leaders,” said Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and lead attorney for plaintiffs in the Covington case. “Based on our initial analysis, the legislature’s proposed redistricting plans do not offer an adequate remedy to the racial gerrymandering in some areas of the state and contain other flaws that violate the state and federal constitutions.”

 

For example, as Plaintiff Julien Pridgen testified yesterday at the public hearing in Raleigh, the House redistricting plan released by legislative leaders unnecessarily redraws the lines of at least five districts that were not considered racial gerrymanders by the federal court and do not touch one of the unconstitutional districts. Those districts, which were redrawn in violation of the state constitution, are House Districts 36, 37, 40 and 41 in Wake County and House District 105 in Mecklenburg County.

 

“It is entirely possible to draw remedial districts that fully comply with the North Carolina state constitution and do not create unconstitutional partisan or racial gerrymanders,” Earls said. “We’ve offered one such alternative to legislators.”

 

The letter sent to members of the Senate Committee on Redistricting and House Select Committee on Redistricting outlining the problems with the proposed legislative maps and offering alternatives is posted at http://bit.ly/CovingtonLetter.

 

A PDF of the House map offered by the Covington plaintiffs is at http://bit.ly/CovingtonHousePlan

 

A PDF of the Senate map offered by the Covington plaintiffs is at http://bit.ly/CovingtonSenatePlan

 

Data files for the maps offered by the Covington plaintiffs are being prepared and will be uploaded to http://www.southerncoalition.org/covingtondata/ as they are ready.

Texas Federal Court Finds Discriminatory Intent in Congressional Maps

SAN ANTONIO, TX – The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas issued an opinion today in Perez v. Abbott, a case challenging Texas’ 2013 statewide redistricting plan, finding that the same racial and ethnic discrimination that existed in the state’s 2011 congressional redistricting plan was still present in the 2013 plans where the district lines remain unchanged.

The Court has ordered the Texas Attorney General to file a written advisory to the state Legislature within three days to inquire whether or not the Legislature intends to take up redistricting to fix the violations. If the Legislature does not intend to engage in redistricting, the Court has set a hearing date of September 5, 2017, to consider remedial plans submitted by the parties to the lawsuit.

Earlier this year, the Court not only found that several Texas congressional and statehouse districts drawn in 2011 diluted minority voting strength in violation of the Voting Rights Act, but also that the districts were drawn with the intent of discriminating against African-American and Latino voters.

Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who litigated the case, issued the following statement about the Court’s decision:

“The current congressional maps in Texas are just as discriminatory as the maps we saw before them. Rather than draw fair maps, legislators have diminished African-American and Latino voters’ power and separated them into districts based solely on their race, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. It’s well past time for the Legislature to fix these violations, and we appreciate the Court’s rejection of the government’s effort to discriminate against voters based on race and ethnicity.”

The opinion in the case can be found at http://bit.ly/PerezAbbott

 

Credit: Triad City Beat

North Carolina’s Middle Court Orders New Legislative Maps Drawn by September 1

Greensboro, N.C. — A panel of three federal court judges has ordered the North Carolina General Assembly to redraw legislative maps by September 1, 2017 in order to remedy the unconstitutional and racially gerrymandered districts found in the Covington v. North Carolina case.  Legislative leaders had requested until November 15 to enact new maps, despite knowing for a year that they would be required to do so. In the order, the judges stated: “We agree with Plaintiffs that the General Assembly already has had ample time to enact a remedial redistricting plan.”

Twenty-eight state legislative districts must be redrawn following a finding by the federal court, unanimously affirmed by the Supreme Court, that those districts are unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

“The court’s decision affirms the urgency with which we must address this wrong committed against North Carolina voters. Despite operating as an unconstitutional body, the General Assembly tried to delay redrawing of maps until November 15. This prompt redrawing will allow North Carolinians to, at least, rest assured knowing which districts they will be living in come the November 2018 elections, and that the federal court will be reviewing the remedial plans closely to ensure they are legal,” said Allison Riggs, senior attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

The order did not call for special elections, meaning North Carolina voters will cast ballots in new districts for the first time in the November 2018 elections.

“For far too long, the General Assembly has delayed justice for those North Carolinians who were assigned to districts solely on the basis of their skin color. Today’s decision is an important step toward correcting that the injustice — by requiring the legislature make public their plans to redraw the state’s affected districts.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, along with the Poyner Spruill law firm, represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

A copy of the court order can be found here: http://www.southerncoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Covington-Order-7-31-17.pdf

U.S. Supreme Court Affirms that North Carolina Racially Gerrymandered State Legislative Districts

North Carolina’s federal Middle District Court will consider when new districts are to be drawn and elections to be held

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court summarily affirmed a lower court’s decision in Covington v. North Carolina that 28 of North Carolina’s state legislative districts are racial gerrymanders. The decision was issued “per curiam” – meaning by a unanimous decision of the Court. The ruling came two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court found two of the state’s U.S. Congressional districts were also racial gerrymanders.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has finally and emphatically confirmed what we’ve known for years – that many of North Carolina’s state legislative districts are unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.  The order reaffirms that our clients, and the voters of this state, are entitled to have fair legislative districts that do not discriminate against voters based on their race,” said Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay in January, which did not affect the merits of the lower court’s decision but delayed its remedy calling for a special election in 2017.  The stay is now lifted, and the order has been sent back to North Carolina’s Middle District Court to re-establish timelines for drawing new districts and holding state legislative elections.  In its 2016 order for the General Assembly to draw new districts and hold elections in 2017, the three-judge panel wrote, “[w]hile special elections have costs, those costs pale in comparison to the injury caused by allowing citizens to continue to be represented by legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander.”

“The court previously called for holding elections later this year in newly drawn districts.  We think there is still time to implement special elections in the impacted districts, and we will do everything we can to make sure that happens,” added Anita Earls.  “Many North Carolinians have been participating in unfair elections in racially gerrymandered districts for far too long.  It’s time to fix this problem.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, along with the Poyner Spruill law firm, represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

SCOTUS ruling in Cooper v. Harris will impact outstanding redistricting challenges in North Carolina

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion affirming a lower court’s ruling in Cooper v. Harris earlier today, holding that race predominated without justification in two of North Carolina’s U.S. Congressional Districts as drawn in 2011. It was a 5 -3 decision with Justice Gorsuch not participating.

Writing for the majority, Justice Kagan explained, “Although States enjoy leeway to take race-based actions reasonably judged necessary under a proper interpretation of the [Voting Rights Act,] that latitude cannot rescue District 1. We by no means “insist that a state legislature, when redistricting, determine precisely what percent minority population [§2 of the VRA] demands.” But neither will we approve a racial gerrymander whose necessity is supported by no evidence and whose raison d’être is a legal mistake.”

“We already have new Congressional Districts in North Carolina. What I find most significant is that the Legislature made the same legal mistake and used race the same way in drawing the state’s House and Senate districts. This opinion, with Justice Thomas joining the majority, must mean those districts are also unconstitutional,” Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

There are two other North Carolina redistricting cases currently before the U.S. Supreme Court – North Carolina v. Covington and Dickson v. Rucho, an appeal from the North Carolina Supreme Court. Both of them have been put on the Supreme Court’s conference calendar for May 25. It is likely that the Court will issue orders in the two pending cases early next week.

“This is good news for all North Carolinians because our democracy is strongest when we have fair districts that do not go block by block to separate voters on the basis of race,” added Anita Earls.

The two districts in question – NC 1 and NC 12 – were redrawn in February 2016 by the North Carolina General Assembly to comply with the lower court’s order. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision means that the state congressional districts can not be reverted back to their pre-February 2016 lines.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the Campaign Legal Center have filed a challenge to the maps drawn in February 2016 in League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho, challenging them as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. That trial is set to be heard in a federal court in Greensboro in June.

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North Carolina voter suppression law falls as U.S. Supreme Court turns down GOP appeal

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has declined to review a federal appeals court decision holding that North Carolina’s 2013 election law — which imposed a voter ID requirement, cut a week of early voting, and eliminated same-day registration — intentionally discriminates against African-Americans. North Carolina has now exhausted all avenues of appeal.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law, which was struck down by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016. In early January, the state sought Supreme Court review, but the newly elected governor moved to drop the petition, prompting the legislators who passed the measure to try and intervene.

“We are grateful that the Supreme Court has decided to allow the Fourth Circuit’s ruling to stand, confirming that discrimination has no place in our democracy nor our elections,” said Allison Riggs, senior staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “This ruling sends a strong message that lawmakers in North Carolina should stop enacting laws that discriminate based on race.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, ACLU, and ACLU of North Carolina represented the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, North Carolina Common Cause, Unifour Onestop Collaborative, and several individuals.

“This law, enacted with what the appeals court called discriminatory intent and ‘almost surgical precision’ targeting African-American voters, is meeting its much-deserved demise,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “An ugly chapter in voter suppression is finally closing.”

 

The order is at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/orders/courtorders/051517zor_986b.pdf

Southern Coalition for Social Justice Statement on Trump Administration’s “Election Integrity Commission”

DURHAM, N.C. – Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, issued the following statement after President Trump signed an executive order creating a commission to investigate unfounded claims of voter fraud in American elections:

“The integrity of American elections are routinely examined and those examinations have continually found that voter fraud is nearly non-existent. President Trump’s commission appears to be a fishing expedition that is likely to yield no more evidence of voter fraud, but yet predictable proposals that will lead to depriving eligible voters of their constitutional rights.

“A recent audit of the 2016 general election in North Carolina showed only one case of voter impersonation that might have been prevented if voter ID were required – that’s one vote out of 4.8 million votes cast. Further, there were many voters throughout the state who were wrongly accused of being ineligible to vote and dragged before county boards of election to defend themselves. It’s not hard to see how President Trump’s commission could further intimidate and discourage eligible voters from participating in our elections.

“We should be finding ways to get more eligible voters engaged and participating in our political system instead of creating a commission focused on closing the doors on Americans.”

 

 

Federal Judges Rule Texas’ 2011 House Districts Intentionally Discriminated Against Voters

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS – The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas has issued an opinion in Perez v. Abbott, a case challenging Texas’ 2011 statewide redistricting plans, finding that districts drawn for the state House of Representatives intentionally discriminated against minority voters. The case has been pending since 2011 when the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) and co-counsel challenged the Congressional and State House redistricting plans on behalf of the Texas NAACP and three individual Texas voters. The Court issued its opinion on the 2011 Congressional plan on March 10, 2017.

Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who litigated the case, issued the following statement about the Court’s decision:

“Today a three-judge panel in Texas ruled that the state’s 2011 redistricting plan for State House districts was intentionally racially discriminatory, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. The state failed to draw districts that reflected the explosive growth in minority population, and, indeed, fragmented those populations in order to avoid creating new minority opportunity districts. Plaintiffs will be in front of the court on April 27 to discuss next steps in ensuring that these violations are corrected before the 2018 elections.”

The opinion in the case can be found at http://bit.ly/TexasRedistricting

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