A federal lawsuit filed in eastern North Carolina is challenging the state’s new state Senate legislative map, alleging that it “unlawfully deprives Black voters of the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.”
U.S. District Court Judge James Dever denied a request Monday for the case to proceed with a speedy trial, affording a win to the Republicans who had used their supermajority in the North Carolina General Assembly to draw maps skewed in their favor.
The plaintiffs had wanted to schedule a hearing on Wednesday to potentially block the maps from being used before a trial. Candidate filing begins Dec. 4, and a delay in the trial date makes it more likely that the upcoming elections will use the newly drawn maps. In addition to the state Senate map, the N.C. General Assembly had also redrew the state House map and the congressional map in October.
"Plaintiffs do not explain why they waited 26 days to file this action and 28 days to move for a preliminary injunction," Dever wrote. "In so waiting, plaintiffs belie their 'claim that there is an urgent need for speedy action to protect their rights' or that their entitlement to a preliminary injunction is clear."
The lawsuit argues that the state Senate map “cracks” Black voters in the “Black Belt counties” of the eastern part of the state across multiple districts, thus diluting their voting strength and violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Specifically, the lawsuit points out state Senate districts 1 and 2, which they argue could be drawn into one district that has a majority-Black voting population.
“The plan enacted by the General Assembly in late October splits, cracks, and packs black voters to dilute their votes and blunt their ability to fully participate in the democratic process,” state Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue said in a statement on Monday.
Blue described the map as "‘cracking’ on steroids," pointing to eight majority-Black counties in eastern North Carolina that would be split into four separate districts.
Before the maps were passed, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice had sent a letter to Republican legislative leaders asserting that the proposed state Senate map violated the VRA. Republican state Sen. Ralph Hise, chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, said throughout the redistricting process that race was not used as a factor when drawing the new maps.
According to an analysis by the John Locke Foundation, the new state Senate map creates 28 Republican-leaning seats, 17 Democrat-leaning seats and five toss-up seats. Republicans will need 30 seats in the state Senate to maintain its supermajority.
Mac McCorkle, Law School ‘84 and professor of the practice at the Sanford School of Public Policy, predicted that the courts may interpret the maps as a form of racial gerrymandering in “taking away the voice of Black people more generally than just Democrats,” referring to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that struck down an Alabama voting district on the basis that it denied representation to African American voters.
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Jazper Lu is a Trinity junior and managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.