‘Lone professor in California’ hired by court to redraw legislative districts has GOP leaders hot under the collar
By Rick Henderson | Carolina Journal News Service
RALEIGH — The three-judge federal court panel reviewing North Carolina legislative districts decided Thursday to appoint Stanford Law School professor Nathaniel Persily to redo at least part of the maps submitted in the Covington v. North Carolina lawsuit.
In its order, the panel said it was likely two of the three Senate districts and seven of the nine House districts the plaintiffs challenged either failed to meet the court’s concerns about providing “equal protection” to voters under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or were “otherwise legally unacceptable.”
With the candidate filing period for the 2018 election cycle approaching, the panel chose Persily — who has served as a special master for redistricting plans in New York, Connecticut, Georgia, and Maryland — to assist the court with new maps or redraw them himself.
The court expects this process to move quickly, noting one reason it chose Persily is that, along with his qualifications and experience, he “has time over the next few weeks to complete the work required by this appointment.”
Two weeks ago, the court asked the parties to agree on a list of three possible candidates to serve as special masters. They could not.
In May, Persily commented about the Cooper v. Harris lawsuit, challenging North Carolina’s congressional districts, for the Stanford Law School website.
At the time, he questioned the significance of the North Carolina case compared with other redistricting challenges under way around the country. “It [Cooper] may affect a few districts here and there, but it should not have widespread consequences for either partisan or racial gerrymanders,” Persily said.
Leaders of the N.C. General Assembly’s redistricting committees are labeling his appointment as “outrageous” and “extraordinary.”
“Similar to this same federal court’s order for a special election in North Carolina that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed, this unusual and vague order provides absolutely no legal or factual basis for objecting to the new maps, while also potentially delegating the legislature’s constitutional authority to draw districts to a lone professor in California with no accountability to North Carolinians,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, and Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, in a joint statement.
Hise and Lewis chair their respective legislative chambers’ redistricting committees. “Being provided only two days to respond to such a strange order that could seize a fundamental right from the people of North Carolina and hand it to a single person on the other side of the country is an outrageous and extraordinary violation of the principles of federalism and our state’s sovereignty,” they said.
“Race was not used at all as a factor in the drawing of these districts,” the statement continues. “Further, these maps split fewer counties, towns and precincts than any map in recent North Carolina history. We are exploring all our legal options.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Roy Cooper’s press secretary, Ford Porter, offered a different take in his own prepared statement. “Legislative leaders had an opportunity to fix their unconstitutional legislative maps,” Porter said. “Instead they dragged their feet, held sham hearings, and passed new maps intended to rig elections in their favor. Today’s announcement that the court has appointed a Special Master who could redraw legislative districts is a positive step to ensuring fair elections in North Carolina.”