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Judges brand Senate District 48 an 'extreme gerrymander' that must be redrawn

State Sen. Chuck Edwards takes aim with an apple cannon as U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows looks on at Stepp's Hillcrest Orchard in Edneyville. State Sen. Chuck Edwards takes aim with an apple cannon as U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows looks on at Stepp's Hillcrest Orchard in Edneyville.

State Sen. Chuck Edwards said he remains confident in his re-election campaign despite the fact that his is one of the Senate districts that a court branded an "extreme partisan gerrymander" that must be redrawn.

 

A three-judge panel on Tuesday ruled that legislative maps the Republican-controlled Legislature adopted in 2017 violate the state constitution and unlawfully "devalued" Democratic voters for the "purposes of entrenching a political party in power."

“Allowing the General Assembly discretion to establish its own redistricting criteria and craft maps accordingly is what the North Carolina Constitution requires; systemically packing and cracking voters to the extent that their votes are subordinated and devalued for no legitimate governmental purpose, but rather the purposes of entrenching a political party in power, is what the North Carolina Constitution forbids,” the panel, made up of two Democrats and one Republican, said in the unanimous ruling.

The court found that 48th Senate District, which Edwards has represented since 2016, was among those that the Legislature drew to deliberately favor Republican candidates in an extreme way. By "cracking" Democratic voting areas out of those districts and packing them into one safe district, the map-makers were able to create many more safe Republican seats around them, the plaintiffs said. The court agreed that was true in Senate 48, which is made up of Henderson County, Transylvania County and southern Buncombe County.

Aside from Senate 48, the panel also ordered the Legislature to redraw Senate seats in Mecklenburg County, Franklin and Wake counties, Nash, Johnston, Harnett, Lee, Sampson and Duplin counties, Guilford, Alamance and Randolph counties, and Davie and Forsyth counties. In each of those cases, the court found that Republicans had used "cracking and packing" to create extreme gerrymanders and limit the number of seats Democrats could reasonaly expect to win. The panel also ordered the Legislature to redraw three House seats in Buncombe County. The court did not order changes in the two House seats in Henderson County, 113 and 117.

Edwards said he stayed up to the early morning hours on Wednesday reading the trial court's 357-page order.

“I’m still confident I’ll be in a good position,” he said Wednesday during a visit to Stepp's Hillcrest Orchard along with U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows. “I don’t see that the makeup of the district is going to change materially. I don’t think ‘sue till blue’ is going to work in Western North Carolina.”

Although Senate leader Phil Berger condemned the court decision as "the next step in Eric Holder’s drive to use judges to create a Democratic majority" in the North Carolina Legislature, he signaled that the Senate would not appeal.

“We disagree with the court’s ruling as it contradicts the constitution and binding legal precedent, but we intend to respect the court’s decision and finally put this divisive battle behind us,” Berger said in a statement. “Nearly a decade of relentless litigation has strained the legitimacy of this state’s institutions, and the relationship between its leaders, to the breaking point. It’s time to move on. To end this matter once and for all, we will follow the court’s instruction and move forward with adoption of a nonpartisan map."

Edwards said Berger's position merely recognizes the futility of appealing in state courts that Republicans believe are now stacked against the GOP's leadership. The state Supreme Court is currently made up of six Democrats and one Republican.

“I don't know if there’s going to be a consensus for us to appeal," Edwards said. "Given the makeup of the courts in North Carolina, I would not be hopeful that the outcome would be any different, even though there is clearly some bias that came out of in the opinion. The same bias exists in the (state) Supreme Court, which is ultimately where any appeals process would end up, and the fact that there are justices on there that have already spoken against the Republican Legislature and our constitutional authority to draw the districts. Essentially, what I’m saying is a number of them have already made up their mind.”

In the order, Superior Court judges Paul C. Ridgeway, Joseph N. Crosswhite and Alma L. Hinton wrote that the map creators had packed heavily Democratic areas in Asheville and Black Mountain into a safe Democratic District 49 in order to make Senate District 48 "comfortably favor Republicans." Simulations by the plaintiff's experts "confirm and independently establish that this county grouping is an extreme partisan gerrymander," they said.

The Senate has set a meeting of its Redistricting Committee next week to start the process to redraw the lines.

“I really don’t what the makeup will be, what the district will look like, and from what I read in the court’s opinion they forbid us to even know that before we draw the districts," he said. "They want it on a screen in front of everyone and it comes out however it comes out." The process would be "using all the same criteria that we would have used before, which is compactness, not splitting precincts. They’re just not happy with the way that it turned out and they’re willing to stop at nothing to try and get a different result.”