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12th, 1st Congressional Districts Must Be Redrawn, Federal Court Rules

The state's congressional district boundaries have since been redrawn, which has reshaped the 1st and 12th districts.
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North Carolina's congressional districts.

A panel of federal judges has struck down two North Carolina majority black congressional districts, saying race was the predominant factor in drawing those lines but state legislators lacked the justification for doing so.

The judges ruled late Friday that the 1st and 12th Districts violated the Constitution's equal protection provision and must be redrawn. The judges ordered the General Assembly to come up with new boundaries within two weeks, although the state could seek a delay with an appeals court. Congressional primaries are set for March 15. Mail-in absentee voting already has started.

The judges want a new plan by Feb. 19, but that could be delayed.

The state NAACP wasn't a plaintiff in this case but has challenged the maps in state court. The group's leader, the Rev. William Barber, says the decision was a huge victory "against 21st century racism and discrimination."

Congresswoman Alma Adams of Greensboro represents the 12th District, which mostly stretches from Charlotte to Guilford County along a narrow path.

“We don’t know what the impacts of this decision will be yet, but for now I am concentrating on doing my job as the Congresswoman for the 12th District, and running a campaign on the basis of my strong record of doing what is right for North Carolina and my district,” Adams said in an email to supporters Friday night.

Mel Watt of Charlotte represented the 12th for 21 years until January 2014. He stepped down to become director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Republican lawmakers redrew the 1st and 12th districts in 2011 with majority black voting age populations, even though both districts were below 50 percent in the previous round of redistricting and voters had elected black lawmakers.

State attorneys argued that race wasn't the predominant motive for forming either district.

State Rep. David Lewis and Sen. Bob Rucho helped shepherd the congressional boundaries through the General Assembly in 2011. They say the decision will be appealed. They released a joint statement Friday:

“Should this decision be allowed to stand, North Carolina voters will no longer know how or when they will get to cast their primary ballots in the presidential, gubernatorial, congressional and legislative elections. And thousands of absentee voters may have already cast ballots that could be tossed out. This decision could do far more to disenfranchise North Carolina voters than anything alleged in this case.

The Justice Department pre-cleared the redistricitng. The congressional districts were also twice upheld by the North Carolina Supreme Court. The latest ruling came in December in a 4-3 decision.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said the federal case was the result of an appeal of a North Carolina Supreme Court ruling in December. The cases are separate.