RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Barely 24 hours after their passage, North Carolina's newly drawn maps are facing another legal complaint that will likely determine how much Republicans can expand their political clout over the coming decade in a state that is slowly becoming more blue.
An organization formed by Marc Elias, a prominent Democratic lawyer, announced Friday that a group of voters who successfully challenged previous North Carolina maps will now make a similar appeal in state court contesting the latest congressional maps. They will argue that the boundaries approved by Republicans on Thursday were drawn for political gain in a way that violates several provisions of the North Carolina Constitution.
The stakes are high, as Republicans currently hold an 8-5 edge over Democrats in the U.S. House and would likely expand their advantages substantially if the maps prevail.
During a virtual event on Twitter, Elias, founder of Democracy Docket, called North Carolina's maps “a grotesque partisan gerrymander” and “indefensible.”
“The Republican Party has lost all shame,” Elias said. "I mean, in the 2010 (redistricting process and) after 2010, they were still pretending that they cared about democracy and about voting rights, and now they no longer pretend."
Last week, voters and advocacy groups sued in Wake County court to block the timetable for passing state legislative maps, accusing Republicans of breaking rules aimed at ensuring Black voters can elect their desired candidates.
The new legal challenge announced on Friday focuses on partisan gerrymandering.
“Expert analysis confirms that the 2021 Plan is an intentional, extreme partisan gerrymander that dilutes Democratic votes and prevents Democratic voters from electing candidates of their choice,” the complaint says.
If the maps hold up in court, Republicans would likely win 10 or 11 of the 14 available congressional seats for the upcoming 2022 midterm elections. Because of sizable population growth in the state over the past decade, North Carolina was awarded an additional district. Just one of the 14 districts is considered highly competitive.
Voting rights groups and Democrats argue the maps are unfair, given that the state has become bluer in recent years, though former President Donald Trump won North Carolina in 2016 and 2020. They also accuse Republicans of diminishing the voting power of racial minorities, including Black and Hispanic residents.
The U.S. House map splits Wake, Mecklenburg and Guilford counties into three congressional districts each. The areas that include the cities of Raleigh, Charlotte and Greensboro are the three most populous counties in the state and overwhelmingly elect Democrats.
The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, which analyzes maps and seeks to eliminate partisan gerrymandering across the country, gave all three maps an overall “F” rating, as they would all provide a significant Republican advantage.
The once-a-decade redistricting process is often a highly partisan fight because the party in the majority typically seeks to draw district lines that maximizes the influence of their own voters. North Carolina's maps cannot be vetoed by its Democratic governor, so they became law once the GOP-controlled legislature approves them.
Republicans note they've used criteria closely similar to maps approved in 2019 after a state court struck down previous Republican-drawn lines as based on pure partisanship. In a move that is likely to improve the party's chances of having their maps hold up in court, the GOP prohibited the use of election or racial data when drawing boundaries.
Critics say the boundaries remain unfair because veteran lawmakers know the state well enough to draw lines advantageous to Republicans without any outside resources needed.
Republicans cite a federal court finding during major litigation over the past decade that North Carolina didn’t have racially polarized voting and didn’t require special attention to racial data. Even so, a federal court in 2016 found North Carolina Republicans wrongly packed Black voters into two congressional districts to dilute the racial group’s votes elsewhere. It ordered the map redrawn, and, in a separate case, another panel of judges found that dozens of state legislative districts were also unlawful racial gerrymanders.
Republicans claim they can’t win.
“When we look at race, we were told we shouldn’t have, and those maps were struck down," state Sen. Paul Newton, who co-chairs North Carolina’s redistricting committee, said in a recent interview. "Now that we’re not looking at race, the Democrat Party is telling us, ‘Oh, you should be looking at race.'"
Elias said it's highly unlikely North Carolina's maps emerged from good intentions.
“Republicans in North Carolina are among the most committed to voter suppression and anti-Democratic efforts in the country,” he said.