RALEIGH, NC (WECT/AP) - A panel of federal judges has struck down two North Carolina majority black congressional districts, saying race was the predominant factor in drawing those lines but state legislators lacked the justification for doing so.
The judges ruled late Friday that the 1st and 12th Districts violated the Constitution's equal protection provision and must be redrawn. The judges ordered the General Assembly to come up with new boundaries within two weeks, although the state could seek a delay with an appeals court. Congressional primaries are set for March 15.
Republican lawmakers drew the two districts with majority black voting age populations, even though both districts were below 50 percent in the previous round of redistricting and voters had elected black lawmakers.
State attorneys argued that race wasn't the predominant motive for forming either district.
The lawmakers who led the redistricting effort in the General Assembly, Sen. Bob Rucho, the Chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, and Rep. David Lewis, the Chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, released a joint statement:
"We are surprised and disappointed by the trial court's eleventh hour decision that throws an election already underway into turmoil. Should this decision be allowed to stand, North Carolina voters will no longer know how or when they will get to cast their primary ballots in the presidential, gubernatorial, congressional and legislative elections. And thousands of absentee voters may have already cast ballots that could be tossed out. This decision could do far more to disenfranchise North Carolina voters than anything alleged in this case. We are confident our state Supreme Court made the right decision when it upheld the maps drawn by the General Assembly and approved by the Obama Justice Department, and we will move swiftly to appeal this decision."
North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Patsy Keever released a statement on the court's decision:
"Today's decision marks an important step towards ensuring the integrity of North Carolina's democratic process. It's clear that Republicans in Raleigh have sought to suppress the vote of those with whom they disagree and rig the electoral process through partisan gerrymandering. This decision is welcome news that should begin to restore basic fairness to North Carolina's congressional elections."