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Lawmakers at odds over redistricting

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By LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Local lawmakers are at odds over redrawing state legislative districts, with one side demanding the process begin immediately and the other saying no clear instructions have been handed down from the courts.

The U.S. Supreme Court indicated in three recent decisions that the Republican redistricting was unconstitutionally gerrymandered based on race. The high court determined 28 legislative districts were designed to dilute the overall influence of black voters.

The problem is the courts haven't said what they want, said N.C. Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash.

“They ruled we redraw the lines but have given no clear institutions how to do it,” Collins said. “We drew the lines according to the Voter Registration Act to increase minority representation and the court switched rules on us.”

Justices vacated a lower court order for the General Assembly to redraw maps and hold special elections this year in the new districts, but no clear path was established.

“We hereby order the North Carolina General Assembly to draw remedial districts in their next legislative session to correct the constitutional deficiencies in the Enacted Plans,” the court ruled. “We therefore order that new maps be drawn that comply with the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.”

The only matter left in controversy under the court's order should be the timing of the next election, not how long Republicans can drag out revealing and enacting the remedial districts in order to delay new elections, said N.C. Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, chairwoman of the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus.

“Every day that the legislative leaders drag their feet in enacting these remedial districts, they are trampling on the constitutional rights of all North Carolinians and engaging in racial discrimination,” Bryant said. “The three-judge court said it best: 'while special elections have costs, those costs pale in comparison to the prospect that citizens will be represented by legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander.'”

The Republican-controlled General Assembly will redraw the lines as soon as someone figures out what rules they want followed, Collins said.

Stepping into the fray late last week, Gov. Roy Cooper called for a special session and demanded elections this year.

“North Carolina shouldn’t hold another session or have another budget voted on by an unconstitutional legislature,” Cooper said in a statement. “Maps should be drawn this month and an election held before next year’s legislative session. If the legislature doesn’t do its job soon, the courts should.”

The legislature canceled Cooper’s call for a special legislative session for redistricting the following day.

Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said the Republican legislature is thumbing its nose at the state Constitution as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It’s troubling that they prefer to fight about the process rather than draw the new map that North Carolina voters deserve to level the playing field of our democracy,” Porter said. “The U.S. Supreme Court was unanimous in its decision and there is no reason to delay the drawing of new maps.”

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