The recent runoff election is a reminder that there is some very important unfinished business in North Carolina politics, namely the boundaries of the state’s legislative and congressional districts.
The North Carolina Supreme Court heard an appeal last week about a lawsuit challenging the Republican-drawn districts. The Republicans gained majorities in both the state House and state Senate in the important 2010 Election. As one of their rewards, they won the job of drawing up the new legislative districts following the 2010 Census.
There is a political tradition in redistricting that to the winners go the spoils. The Republicans made up for 130 years of watching the Democrats draw new districts. With computer technology and redistricting Republican experts, the legislature created one of the most partisan redistricting maps ever.
The new congressional districts, for example, are likely to change the current line-up of seven Democrats and six Republicans to three Democrats and 10 Republicans. This in a state that’s almost evenly divided between Democratic and Republican voters. Redistricting is constitutionally reserved for the General Assembly. The governor cannot veto redistricting bills.
Lawsuits immediately challenged the new districts, something else that’s become a North Carolina tradition. A three-judge Superior Court panel led by Raleigh jurist Paul Ridgeway ruled the challenges could go forward but in the meantime, the new districts would be honored in the 2012 elections.
There have been appeals since then. The latest involved the information and data provided by outside, Republican consultants who are lawyers. The Republican legislative leaders do not want to reveal that information. They argue that it is protected by attorney-client privilege.
The three-judge panel ruled that because the consultants were paid with public funds—more than $200,000—their documents and emails are public record, much like the advice and work by legislative employees who aid in redistricting, some of whom are lawyers.
That is where the redistricting lawsuits stand.
Once the state Supreme Court decides the current discovery issue, the case returns to the bipartisan three-judge panel to decide the challenges. These opinions might also be appealed.
After the state court’s ruling, the federal courts will hear other challenges that deal with federal redistricting laws. The best guess, and that’s what it is, a guess, is that the lawsuits will be settled next year.
If the challenges are successful, the Republican controlled legislature will have to redraw district lines.
Following this process makes one better appreciate the cliché that the wheels of justice grind slowly.