North Carolina GOP balks at ‘special master’ to help redraw General Assembly districts

by WorldTribune Staff, October 31, 2017

A judicial panel’s appointment of a “special master” to help North Carolina’s General Assembly with redistricting would “obstruct the state’s ability” to redraw the district lines, Republican leaders said.

The three judge panel announced last week it would appoint Stanford University law school professor Nathaniel Persily as what’s called a “special master” to assist with redistricting.

From the proposed 2017 state House map. / NC General Assembly

The same three judges last year struck down nearly 30 districts originally drawn in 2011 by the Republican-controlled legislature, saying they unlawfully relied too heavily on race, The Associated Press reported.

The General Assembly approved new lines in August, but the judges wrote last week they remained concerned that seven House and two Senate districts “either fail to remedy the identified constitutional violation or are otherwise legally unacceptable.”

The new districts are supposed to be in place for the 2018 elections. Candidate filing begins in February.

Phil Strach, a lawyer for North Carolina Republicans, said the judges shouldn’t appoint a special master – Persily or anyone else – until they issue a ruling that explains why the nine districts are legally unacceptable and give the General Assembly a chance to fix the problems.

“The legislative defendants are concerned that the appointment of a special master as described by the court will instead affirmatively obstruct the state’s ability to exercise its sovereign right to redistrict in the first instance,” Strach said.

Persily, who has assisted judges in drawing districts in four other states, “has many media appearances and published works relating to North Carolina redistricting which raise questions about his ability to fairly assess the plans before the court,” Strach said.

Strach also said that Persily had connections to both the chief lawyer for the voters who sued over the maps, as well as to the voters’ allies. Strach pointed to a 2006 redistricting conference by the University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights in which a document listed Persily as a conference presenter. Anita Earls, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, worked for the center at the time, Strach said.

Persily filed an affidavit last week stating he knew of no grounds that disqualified him from serving as a special master in the case.

“I am an expert in election law, generally, and reapportionment and districting matters in particular,” Persily said in the two-page document. “I have served as a special master or court-appointed expert to assist in drafting redistricting plans for the states of Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland and New York.”

Earls and lawyers representing the voters who originally sued over the 2011 maps hadn’t filed any objections to Persily as of Oct. 30. Earls, who is now working for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said in a release last week that it had “been shown time and again that the state legislature refuses to draw fair districts that comply with the law.”

The 2011 districts helped Republicans expand and retain veto-proof majorities.

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