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Court upholds North Carolina Republicans’ redistricting plan, but appeal to state Supreme Court is next

By Tierney Sneed and Dianne Gallagher, CNN

A state court in North Carolina refused on Tuesday to disturb the state legislative and US congressional redistricting plan drawn after the 2020 census, in a case that is expected to be decided by the North Carolina Supreme Court.

In the decision handed down on Tuesday, the trial court panel rejected the arguments made by the challengers, who alleged that the maps were an extreme partisan gerrymander that violated the North Carolina constitution and unlawfully diluted the political power of voters of color.

Addressing the partisan gerrymandering claims, the court said it did not have a role to play in policing partisan gerrymanders, as it borrowed from the language of US Supreme Court decision that said that partisan gerrymander challenges could not be brought in the federal judiciary.

“Were we as a Court to insert ourselves in the manner requested, we would be usurping the political power and prerogatives of an equal branch of government,” the panel of North Carolina judges said in its opinion. “Once we embark on that slippery slope, there would be no corner of legislative or executive power that we could not reach.”

As for the racial dilution claims in the case, the court said that the challengers did not “satisfy their burden of establishing that race was the predominant motive behind the way in which the Enacted Plans were drawn.”

The judges had held a three-day trial last week in what was a consolidation of three cases challenging the maps. One lawsuit alleged that the maps were unlawful partisan gerrymanders and an illegal dilution of racial minority voting power. A second lawsuit claimed that the congressional redistricting plan violated the North Carolina constitution’s limits on partisan gerrymandering. A third group of challengers intervened in the case to argue that the map-drawers ran afoul of previous court decisions in their stated refusal to use racial voting data for the purposes of Voting Rights Act compliance.

In statements after the decision, the challengers expressed their disappointment with the ruling but stressed that the legal battle would continue at the state Supreme Court, where Democrats make up a narrow majority of the justices on the bench. The panel of superior court judges that issued Tuesday’s decision was made up of two Republicans and one Democrat.

“We look forward to taking our case to the state Supreme Court,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, which is one of the groups challenging the maps. “We are confident that the people of North Carolina will ultimately prevail in our fight for fair maps.”

The leaders of the redistricting effort in North Carolina’s GOP-controlled legislature celebrated the decision, while noting that it was handed down by a bipartisan court. North Carolina state Sen. Warren Daniel targeted the involvement of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, led by former Attorney General Eric Holder, who served under the Obama administration.

“Now that a bipartisan court unanimously validated the maps, the people of our state should be able to move on with the 2022 electoral process,” Daniel said in a statement. “But the sue-’til-blue organizations and their lawyers will probably appeal to the conflict-riddled state Supreme Court because its 4-3 Democratic majority was won with the help of a six-figure donation from the very organization funding this case.”

The decision comes after North Carolina had already pushed back its electoral calendar under court order so that the legal fight could play out.

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