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North Carolina Republicans Ask Judges To Uphold House Remap

The North Carolina General Assembly building

North Carolina Republican lawmakers on Friday defended how they recently redrew state House districts after state judges ruled lines drawn two years ago were tainted by extreme partisan bias favoring the GOP.

In a legal brief, the legislators' attorneys urged the three-judge panel that last month ordered the remap of nearly 80 House and Senate districts to leave the alterations approved by the GOP-controlled General Assembly intact.

The filing responded to objections that the victors in a partisan gerrymandering lawsuit — Common Cause and the state Democratic Party among them — made about how nearly 20 House districts were redrawn.

The plaintiffs asked the court to redraw those 19 districts again with the help of a Stanford University redistricting expert. Although they lodged no complaints last week against the Senate map, they alleged many failures in how House Republicans debated and approved their chamber's lines.

But there are no dramatic differences in how the House and Senate completed and approved the redistricting, the GOP defendants wrote, adding that objections to the House remap in 10 counties must be designed to help obtain more Democratic-friendly districts.

"The House process was fully compliant with the court's decree, deferential to Democratic input and executed in a way to avoid being affected by hidden partisan bias," wrote Phil Strach, a lawyer for the legislators, calling their objections "a case of selected outrage."

The judges, who could order none, some or all of the districts be redrawn, haven't said when they will rule. The final lines will be used in the 2020 elections, for which candidate filing begins in early December. Whichever party wins majorities next year will get to draw maps for the next 10-year cycle.

The plaintiffs last week questioned why the House used a different set of simulated maps compared with the Senate and generated by a redistricting expert hired by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit as baselines for replacement districts. The plaintiffs said their expert — Jowei Chen of the University of Michigan — reviewed the new maps and found the House replacement in four or five county groupings challenged is an "extreme, pro-Republican partisan outlier."

But the GOP lawyers cited its own expert in rejecting Chen's conclusion, and pointed out that Democratic members on the House Redistricting Committee proposed these baseline maps be used over another set Chen created.

The GOP lawmakers also rejected accusations that the court's order against using partisan data in drawing maps was violated when their attorneys improperly emailed partisan data with House Redistricting Committee members about Chen's base districts.

The complex data was downloaded by only a Democratic committee member and the assistant for a Republican member, the lawyers said, and nothing indicates the numbers influenced the mapmaking. Otherwise, they wrote, the process complied with the judges' orders and limited alterations to changes necessary to ensure pairs of incumbents wouldn't have to run against each other.

The plaintiffs' assertion "that the House process 'opened the door to partisan manipulation' ignores the many safeguards against precisely that," Strach wrote. "Every line was drawn in public."

Heartened by the state judges' ruling last month, Democratic and independent voters last week sued to overturn North Carolina's 2016 congressional map, saying it suffers from the same exaggerated Republican partisan skew and violates the state constitution. The same three Superior Court judges who ruled unanimously in the legislative case have been picked to hear the congressional map lawsuit.

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