The North Carolina state Senate is poised to create a new congressional district map that puts two Republican incumbents in jeopardy of losing their seats in next year’s elections after a federal court ruled the latest version of those district lines violate voter rights.
But the seemingly endless fight over redistricting is likely headed back to the courts as Democrats plan to ask judges to draw new lines, confident they can pick up at least one, and potentially two more seats, on top of what Republicans have proposed.
The latest round of fighting kicked off last month, when a state court ordered the legislature to redraw congressional district lines in use since 2016. The three-judge panel said the current maps represented an “extreme partisan gerrymander,” one that handed Republicans 10 of North Carolina’s 13 seats in Congress.
Rather than take the case to the state Supreme Court, a fight they believed they would lose, legislative Republicans decided to draw new maps.
After a few weeks of debate and line-drawing, the new maps that passed the state House on a party-line vote on Thursday would create eight districts that favored President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger welcomes baby boy Tennessee lawmaker presents self-defense bill in 'honor' of Kyle Rittenhouse Five things to know about the New York AG's pursuit of Trump MORE in 2016, and five that favored Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe dangerous erosion of Democratic Party foundations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat Left laughs off floated changes to 2024 ticket MORE.
The new maps are troubling news for Reps. George HoldingGeorge Edward Bell HoldingFormer Rep. Renee Ellmers running for Congress again in North Carolina House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit Lara Trump leading Republicans in 2022 North Carolina Senate poll MORE (R) and Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerThe 10 races that will decide the Senate majority North Carolina Democrat Jeff Jackson drops out of Senate race Democrat Jeff Jackson set to exit North Carolina Senate race: report MORE (R). Holding’s Raleigh-based district gave Clinton 60 percent of the vote in 2016, according to calculations by Stephen Wolf, a redistricting expert at the liberal Daily Kos Elections blog. Walker’s Greensboro-based district would have given Clinton 59 percent of the vote in 2016.
Holding, serving his fourth term, has indicated he may retire rather than run in a heavily Democratic district or move to challenge a fellow Republican.
Walker, serving his third term, said on Twitter late Thursday he would “keep fighting” for North Carolinians “no matter what liberal attorneys, judicial activists and politicians in Raleigh do in self-interest.”
Some North Carolina political observers interpreted that tweet as a sign Walker would run for a U.S. Senate seat in 2022, when Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrMomentum builds to prohibit lawmakers from trading stocks Public health expert: Biden administration needs to have agencies on the 'same page' about COVID Top Biden adviser expresses support for ban on congressional stock trades MORE (R) has said he will retire.
None of the 11 other districts would be particularly competitive: Clinton carried three of those seats by margins larger than 10 percentage points, and Trump carried the remaining eight by similarly wide margins.
The state Senate plans to vote on the House-passed maps Friday. Sources in North Carolina said that vote, too, would be along party lines as Democrats set up their legal challenge.
“Based on the various state representatives’ comments right before the final vote in the [North Carolina] House, I’d say both sides were formalizing their thoughts for the court to review,” said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College.
Democrats complained in particular about the way Republicans drew district lines in Cumberland County, home of Fayetteville. The county is divided between districts held by Reps. David RouzerDavid Cheston RouzerNorth Carolina legislature approves new US House map We can't let sand mining threaten storm-buffering, natural infrastructure READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results MORE (R) and Richard HudsonRichard Lane HudsonGOP beginning to jockey for post-election leadership slots GOP's Banks burnishes brand with Pelosi veto Lawmakers spend more on personal security in wake of insurrection MORE (R), and some Democrats believe the three-judge panel will find fault with the new lines.
“To have a fair map we need a 6-7 map or a 7-6 map or a 6-6-1 map. Those would be fair maps,” Rep. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Democrats confront rising retirements as difficult year ends Members of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 MORE (D) told the Raleigh News & Observer. “This appears on the face of it to be a 5-8 map, which doesn’t quite get us where we need to go.”
Republicans objected to what they called Democratic hypocrisy in demanding maps that come with any predetermined outcome. Several Republicans expressed frustration that Democrats were already lining up their legal challenge.
“The Democrats who sued to prohibit partisan redistricting have demanded their preferred partisan outcomes in exchange for voting to support new congressional maps. Such brazen hypocrisy is astounding,” said state Sen. Ralph Hise (R), who co-chairs the Senate redistricting panel.
If the three-judge panel agrees with Democrats that the newly proposed maps still do not meet the court order, they could turn to a special master to redraw the district lines once again.
But that special master would have to make haste: The filing deadline for congressional races is Dec. 2, just over two weeks away.
After a decade of legal battles over district lines, the fight is not over. Candidates who win election next year will begin another round, this one over regularly scheduled redistricting that follows the 2020 census.