New lawsuit claims that NC congressional districts are racially gerrymandered

RALEIGH, N.C. (WITN) – North Carolina’s congressional districts were redrawn this year to intentionally discriminate against minority voters, claims a federal lawsuit filed Monday.

WRAL reports that the lawsuit, which comes the same day as the candidate filing for the 2024 elections opened, seeks to stop the new Republican-backed maps from being used. Unless blocked in court, the new maps will be used in every election from next year through 2030.

North Carolina gained influence in Congress with an extra seat after the 2020 Census, due largely to a booming non-white population. The lawsuit says Republican lawmakers should’ve recognized that fact when drawing the new maps but rather drew maps that will harm minority voters and give white conservatives a disproportionate amount of political power.

“Instead of granting minority voters the benefit of the state’s increased representation, the General Assembly majority capitalized on that gain to increase their own power and decrease minority voting power,” the lawsuit says.

A spokesperson for Senate leader Phil Berger didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for House Speaker Tim Moore didn’t immediately provide a statement when reached.

North Carolina has a long history of gerrymandering, for both racial and political intent, and under the legislative control of both Democrats and — in all the lawsuits since 2011 — Republicans. Several of the main national Supreme Court cases on gerrymandering have been from North Carolina, dating back to the 1980s.

Initial analyses of the new district lines have shown that Republicans are likely to win 10 of North Carolina’s 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives even if most voters around the state vote for Democrats to represent them, based on past election data. One of the seats is expected to be competitive, meaning future elections would likely lead to either a 10-4 or 11-3 split in favor of Republicans.

Democrats say a 10-4 or 11-3 split would be unfair, due to North Carolina’s status as an evenly split swing state where Republican Donald Trump won in both 2016 and 2020, but each time with less than 50% of the vote. Republicans counter that Democrats are too clustered in major cities, leading to districts that favor conservative voters who tend to be more spread out across the state.

The current districts, used in the 2022 elections, are currently represented by an even split of seven Republicans and seven Democrats. They were drawn under court order by a team of experts after the original maps, which GOP lawmakers drew after the 2020 Census, were struck down as unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

The map accomplishes its more lopsided pro-Republican split by packing massive numbers of Democrats into just three districts — one in Charlotte and two in the Triangle — while also splitting up other smaller metro areas around Greensboro and Fayetteville into multiple districts, to combine pieces of those cities with far-flung rural areas, creating Republican-leaning districts.

State GOP leaders have defended their actions as perfectly within their authority under the North Carolina Constitution, which gives the state legislature near-unlimited power over redistricting. But the federal lawsuit, filed in the Middle District of North Carolina by veteran Democratic attorney Marc Elias’s firm, claims the maps violate part of the U.S. Constitution, specifically around ensuring equal protection.

“The 2023 Congressional Plan continues North Carolina’s long tradition of enacting redistricting plans that pack and crack minority voters into gerrymandered districts designed to minimize their voting strength,” the lawsuit says.

The plaintiffs are all Black or Hispanic voters who are specifically challenging four individual districts as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders: District 1 in northeastern North Carolina, District 6 stretching from parts of Greensboro to the Charlotte suburbs, District 12 in Charlotte and District 14 stretching from the Charlotte suburbs to Morganton.

If they succeed in getting those districts ruled unconstitutional, it could require the legislature to redraw many if not all of the other congressional districts, too, to address the underlying problems.