In Raleigh today, a group of civil rights and election watchdog organizations filed a legal challenge to newly drawn maps for North Carolina’s legislative and congressional seats. The suit is the second filed this week in Wake County Superior Court alleging the Republican-drawn maps segregate minority voters in order to dilute their statewide influence.
A solemn group of civil rights and voting advocates crowded into a clerk’s office this morning at the Wake County Courthouse to see the lawsuit being filed. As a clerk time-stamped copies of the ninety-six page complaint, the leader of the state NAACP told onlookers his group is one of the plaintiffs.
William Barber: "I’m Reverend William Barber on behalf of the NAACP we have many many other plaintiffs that are being named in this suit and we’re doing this because we believe that we cannot go backwards in this state and we must, we must adhere to the fundamentals of our constitution."
Attorneys for four groups and 27 registered voters allege the boundaries approved by the General Assembly in July illegally consolidate African-American voters to decrease their electoral power. The lawsuit says more than 500 voting precincts are split. Barber says the intent of the maps is clear.
Barber: "This is not Jim Crow. This is James Crow Esquire. Jim Crow prevented African-Americans from participating at all. James Crow Esquire says we can’t stop the participation, that’s illegal now. But they can nullify the minority vote by creating racially motivated districts that stack, pack and bleach black voters."
By stacking, packing and bleaching Barber means crowding black voters into the smallest number of districts possible. North Carolina is one of a number of areas in the country with a history of discrimination against minority voters. That’s why the Justice Department had to officially preclear the maps earlier this week. Other plaintiffs in the suit include the state League of Women Voters, the union-affiliated A. Philip Randolph Institute and Democracy North Carolina. Democratic elected officials and voters filed a similar lawsuit yesterday. Republican leaders say they expected this to happen.
Lewis: "I’m not surprised at all that the lawsuits are being filed. We were promised by the head of the NAACP at a public hearing before the maps were even presented and passed that they were going to sue. "
Republican representative David Lewis chairs the House Redistricting Committee. Lewis says he wishes the plaintiffs in the suit had been more actively involved in the map-drawing process.
Lewis: "We contacted the state NAACP, and other groups that we thought might would be interested in this, we asked them to participate to offer their thoughts and insight into helping to prepare the maps, instead they’ve chosen to hurl accusations of packing, which is completely absurd."
Lewis says since the Justice Department precleared the maps they must be legal. But the plaintiffs say all the attorney general had to decide was whether the maps would decrease the number of minority candidates who’d probably be elected in 40 counties. They say the decision didn’t consider whether the entire plan would segregate voters across the state. In the meantime, candidates running for office may have to make some tough choices. Justin Levitt is a professor at Loyola Law School who studies election law.
Justin Levitt: "Those who are deciding to run will have to file for congressional elections by the end of February 2012 and legislative elections around about the same time, and if a court decides that the current lines aren’t legal, then it could well reconfigure a lot of choices people make about whether or not they’re running for office and who’s likely to win in each district."
A three-judge panel chosen by North Carolina’s chief justice will hear the challenges filed against the maps.