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Tar Heel Pundits
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Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The North Carolina Supreme Court today in Stephenson v. Bartlett affirmed a trial court ruling that "the General Assembly's 2002 revised redistricting plans are unconstitutional." The decision can be found here. The Washington Post covers the decision here. The Democrats and the Republicans have been fighting over the redistricting plans since they were passed by a Democratic-controlled General Assembly in November 2001. The 2002 elections were conducted under maps drawn by Superior Court Judge (and all-around nice guy) Knox Jenkins and cleared by the US Department of Justice after Judge Jenkins held that the maps submitted to him by the North Carolina General Assembly were unconstitutional.

The defendants appealed the maps drawn by Judge Jenkins, but “in consideration of the time constraints for preclearance and for conducting the 2002 elections, [the North Carolina Supreme Court] denied defendants' petition for writ of supersedeas and motion for temporary stay.”

After additional findings of fact this spring, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The Court held that “[t]he [North Carolina] Constitution specifically enumerates four limitations upon the redistricting and reapportionment authority of the General Assembly, summarized as follows:
(1) Each Senator and Representative shall represent, as nearly as possible, an equal number of inhabitants.

(2) Each senate and representative district shall at all times consist of contiguous territory.

(3) No county shall be divided in the formation of a senate or representative district.

(4) Once established, the senate and representative districts and the apportionment of Senators and Representatives shall remain unaltered until the next decennial census of population taken by order of Congress.”
The Court went on to list the requirements from its first Stephenson decision for redistricting that the General Assembly must take into account (mostly having to do with the conflict between the Voting Rights Act, the one person one vote requirement, and the requirements set out by the North Carolina Constitution), and stated that in “creating legislative districts, counties shall not be divided except to the extent necessary to comply with federal law, including the ‘one-person, one-vote’ principle and the VRA.”

The Court then examined the trial court’s findings of fact, specifically those that found that districts did not comply with the constitutional requirements. The North Carolina Supreme Court held that the trial court’s findings of fact “establish numerous instances where the 2002 revised redistricting plans are constitutionally deficient. [The Court] further conclude[d] that these findings of fact adequately support the trial court's conclusion that the 2002 revised redistricting plans fail toattain [sic] ‘strict compliance with the legal requirements set forth’ in Stephenson I and are unconstitutional.”

This is a pretty big defeat for the Democrats in North Carolina, though not one that was unexpected. A majority of the Supreme Court is made up of Republicans, so the Democrats likely thought this was possible. Still, Republicans won a majority of the seats in the state House of Representatives and cut the majority of the Democrats by a large mark in 2002, demonstrating the power of the old districts as compared to the newly drawn districts. (he Republicans squandered their one-seat majority in the House, though and now there are Joint Speakers of the North Carolina House of Representatives. If the redistricting maps drawn by Judge Jenkins stay in effect, it will prove to be a significant victory for the Republicans, and dose not bode well for future Democratic victories in a state where the Republicans have been winning more seats in the General Assembly each year.

posted by John Branch @ 2:44 PM

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