Federal judges have approved North Carolina legislative districts redrawn by an expert they hired to address their concerns about continued racial bias with some boundaries and new constitutional violations.
The three-judge panel signed off Friday on changes made by a Stanford University law professor appointed as a special master. The changes to two dozen House and Senate districts would be used in this fall's elections.
The court brought in the expert to redo maps approved last summer by the Republican-controlled General Assembly after the same judges ruled districts initially approved in 2011 were illegal racial gerrymanders.
Democratic State Sen. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte called the court's decision a "partial success."
"There's no question that [the districts] are a big improvement," he said, "There's a lot less packing of African-Americans, which is good because that means you are going to have a far less dilution of their political influence in the state."
Still, Jackson said he'd rather politicians be shut out of drawing legislative maps altogether.
"As long as politicians are drawing the maps, people are being mistreated," he said. "Neither party has been consistently able to draw legal maps and that's why neither party should be in the business of drawing maps. We need an independent commission to do this."
GOP legislative leaders say the maps approved in August were lawful and criticized the judges for hiring the special master. They've said they'll appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a joint statement, Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County and Sen. Ralph Hise of Mitchell County, both Republicans, railed against the decision.
"The legislature has repeatedly asked this court to provide guidance, citing the urgency of the upcoming candidate filing period," the statement read. "Contrary to our pleas and fresh off yesterday's stinging rebuke from the high court, this panel has unleashed another bout of uncertainty that could harm North Carolina voters who are entitled to free and fair elections."
The statement was referring to a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court issued on Thursday, which temporarily put on hold a lower court ruling that would have required Republicans to redraw the state's 13 congressional districts by next week.