by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
Monday evening, Carolina Journal’s Kari Travis reported on the first day of redistricting since a three-judge panel declared North Carolina’s maps unconstitutional. Lawmakers have very little time to finish the maps – only until Wednesday, September 18. According to Travis:
Debate about ground rules stalled progress while Republicans worked under the court’s map-drawing orders. Lawmakers aren’t allowed to use partisan data to “pack and crack” constituents into districts that benefit the majority party. They’re not allowed to use the old maps as a starting point for new districts. They’re not allowed to hire outside help without the court’s permission.
Because the court disqualified existing maps as a base for new districts, Republicans proposed that lawmakers use model maps — drawn by redistricting expert Jowei Chen — as their canvas. Chen, a University of Michigan political scientist, was an expert witness for plaintiffs in Common Cause v. Lewis. Republicans will use Chen’s maps as a starting point, thus complying with the court, majority leaders from both chambers said.
This has reportedly caused friction between the parties in the legislature:
The announcement was a curveball for Democrats, who argued the maps required more analysis. It also put Democrats in the unusual position of arguing against maps approved in a court decision they initially applauded…
“We are deeply concerned that the Democrats’ lawyers’ objections are a ruse, as the Democrats claimed in open Committee that they can use partisanship for redistricting, but Republicans cannot,” [Rep. David] Lewis told CJ late Monday. “The General Assembly intended on inputting Dr. Chen’s simulated map data in exactly the same format as it was given to us by the plaintiffs. Those plans have been shelved based on Plaintiffs’ objections.”
The committees face heightened tensions, as the court ruled the entire process must be open to the public. Travis writes:
“It comes down to the old saying about having to ‘Watch the sausage being made,’” Lewis said.
Going forward, the legislature will live stream video of committees, Lewis said. Democrats had asked the majority to schedule public hearings, possibly outside Raleigh. Again, GOP leaders said there wasn’t enough time.