In North Carolina, work will soon begin on new political maps — yet again
The North Carolina Supreme Court on Friday struck down Republican-drawn congressional and state legislative maps and ordered the General Assembly to draw new maps by Feb. 18.
WFAE political reporter Steve Harrison joins weekend host Nick de la Canal to talk about the closely watched decision.
Steve Harrison: Good morning, Nick.
Nick de la Canal: Steve, leading up to this decision there was a lot of partisan infighting on the court, which has four Democratic justices and three Republicans. And the decision came down on party lines, right?
Harrison: It did, yes. The four Democratic justices said (the maps) are “unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt” and that they violated several provisions in the state constitution, including the free speech clause and equal protection clause.
The Republicans dissented.
And leading up to this decision, there was an enormous amount of political fighting. Democrats wanted Republican Justice Phil Berger Jr. to recuse himself since his dad is the (state) Senate leader. Republicans said Democratic Justice Anita Earls should recuse herself since she received $250,000 in campaign contributions from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. That’s a group that helped fund one of these lawsuits.
There was even chatter that the legislature might impeach justices should they draw new maps themselves.
But in the end, the full court heard the case. And it was a 4-3 vote along party lines.
De la Canal: The court said new maps have to be drawn by Feb. 18. But the justices also said lawmakers have to give a written analysis of why the maps are fair. That’s a surprise, right?
Harrison: Yeah, the court told lawmakers not only do you need to make new maps, you have to show your work and give them the data and the analysis they used to make those maps. The original three-judge panel that heard the case last month has been ordered to review that underlying data and the maps to see if they are constitutional.
The good news for Republicans is that they have been given the second opportunity to make the maps.
The bad news is the plaintiffs have also been given the opportunity to draw their own maps, and the court said it will make a final decision as to which map is picked.
De la Canal: So walk me through the congressional map that was passed last year and what the new map may look like.
Harrison: So, North Carolina gained an additional seat in Congress and now has 14. And the map approved gave Republicans the advantage in 10 of the 14 seats. And in a good year for Republicans — which 2022 may be — they could win 11.
Democrats, of course, said, "Wait, our presidential candidates receive about 47-48% of the vote. This isn’t fair."
And the same goes for the state legislative maps, which consolidate Republican majorities in the House and Senate and give them a realistic chance at super-majorities in the House and Senate.
But back to the congressional map: This is where it’s going to get interesting.
Republicans have been pointing to an analysis done by one of the plaintiffs’ own experts, who said that the most common map a computer draws would give Republicans the advantage in nine seats. But to be sure, that analysis said there would be more competitive seats as well.
So, Republicans are going to give back at least one seat and maybe make one or two others more competitive.
But the plaintiffs' maps are almost certainly going to go farther. They are likely going to draw a map that gives Democrats the edge in six, seven or even eight seats.
Then the question is: Which map does the court pick?
De la Canal: And the primary is still on for May?
Harrison: It is. This is a tight deadline. They want the maps finalized by Feb. 23 so candidate filing can begin the next day.
De la Canal: That's WFAE's Steve Harrison. Thanks, Steve.