Source: NC Newsline
Two Black northeastern North Carolina residents filed a lawsuit on Nov. 20 seeking to invalidate the state Senate redistricting plan that the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed in October, NC Newsline reported.
The federal lawsuit filed by Rodney Pierce, of Halifax County, and Moses Matthews, of Martin County, claims that the North Carolina legislature ignored northeast North Carolina’s history of racially polarized voting, as well as federal law and a state Supreme Court opinion, in order to draw districts in eastern North Carolina that sap the power of Black voters.
The suit requests that the court ban the Senate district map from being used in an election – and that districts in the east and northeast must be redrawn to give Black voters in those areas the chance to elect the candidate of their choosing in 2024.
These particular areas of the state are part of what’s called the Black Belt, which is the name for areas across the Southeast where enslaved Africans and their descendants were forced to work in the fields. North Carolina’s Black Belt counties still have majority Black populations, but the Senate maps created districts in those counties that dilute Black voting strength, the lawsuit claims.
“Rather than crack Black voters across these districts, the General Assembly could have drawn the Black Belt counties into majority-minority districts that would have met the Voting Rights Act’s requirements while adhering to North Carolina’s redistricting criteria,” the lawsuit said.
The suit accuses Republican legislators of violating a 2002 NC Supreme Court decision that required legislators to draw districts in compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) and then to draw districts that don’t divide counties.
This year’s redistricting process was done in secret without input from Democrats, voting rights advocates or the public. Legislators held only three public forums – in three different cities, at inconvenient times and over three straight days in late September – and didn’t bring the maps they had been working on to present to the public.
Before Republicans rammed through the new maps, Senate Democrats had warned them that they were violating both the 2002 state Supreme Court decision and the federal VRA. Republicans approved the maps anyway.
Democratic Senate leader Dan Blue said that Republicans should have listened to their warnings.
“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,” Blue said in a statement.
“For example, there are eight counties in North Carolina that are majority Black in population, and they are all in eastern North Carolina (Bertie, Hertford, Edgecombe, Northampton, Halifax, Vance, Warren and Washington). The map enacted by the General Assembly divides these eight counties among four separate districts,” he went on. “This is ‘cracking’ on steroids.”
Examples of majority-minority districts that could be drawn in North Carolina’s Black Belt counties are included in the lawsuit.
Additionally, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ), which is not connected to this lawsuit, sent legislators a letter before they approved the new districts that focused on Black Belt counties and changes the organization said needed to be made to comply with the Voting Rights Act.
The letter also included data from the 2022 election that the SCSJ said showed “extreme racially polarized voting in North Carolina’s Black Belt.”
Pierce and Matthews requested an expedited briefing and decision in their case, but U.S. District Court Judge James C. Dever, a conservative Republican appointed to the bench by former President George W. Bush, rejected their motion.
In his four-page order, Dever questioned why the plaintiffs waited 26 days to file their suit and 28 days to move for a preliminary injunction.
“In 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,” Dever wrote.
He also wrote that the plaintiffs’ request ignored the court’s heavy workload, saying there were “thirteen sentencing hearings, three revocation hearings, a civil bench trial and two pretrial conferences in criminal cases” last week alone.
In denying their request, Dever called the emergency motion “meritless.”
While Dever’s decision isn’t what voting rights advocates were hoping for, it doesn’t preclude the case from proceeding. Unfortunately, the Senate map was not put on hold before the candidate filing period opened on Dec. 4.