North Carolina poised to pass new congressional maps

North Carolina poised to pass new congressional maps

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.

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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 John TrumpAdvisor: Sanders could beat Trump in Texas Bloomberg rips Sanders over Castro comments What coronavirus teaches us for preventing the next big bio threat MORE in 2016, and five that favored Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden faces do-or-die primary in South Carolina President Trump's assault on checks and balances: Five acts in four weeks Schiff blasts Trump for making 'false claims' about Russia intel: 'You've betrayed America. Again' MORE

The new maps are troubling news for Reps. George HoldingGeorge Edward Bell HoldingGOP leaders encourage retiring lawmakers to give up committee posts House GOP vows to use impeachment to cut into Democratic majority Mark Walker mulling 2022 Senate bid, won't seek reelection in the House MORE (R) and Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerTop GOP super PAC spent money on NC Democrat House passes bipartisan bill to create women's history museum NCAA and its allies spent 0K on lobbying last year amid push for athlete pay 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.”

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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 BurrThis week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Congress set for clash over surveillance reforms Trump's new intel chief makes immediate changes, ousts top official 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 poised to pass new congressional maps North Carolina ruling could cost GOP House seats Thirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill MORE (R) and Richard HudsonRichard Lane HudsonLawmakers warn Pentagon against reduction of US forces in Africa North Carolina poised to pass new congressional maps North Carolina ruling could cost GOP House seats 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 ButterfieldHouse poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate Democrat makes case for impeachment in Spanish during House floor debate Democrats likely to gain seats under new North Carolina maps 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.