RALEIGH — A North Carolina House district that includes parts of Lumberton, Red Springs, Maxton, Rowland and Fairmont is among 28 districts that were struck down by federal judges Thursday as illegally gerrymandered by race.
The districts, used when electing representatives to both bodies of the North Carolina General Assembly, will still be used in November’s elections.
Among those districts deemed gerrymanders are House District 48, which has been represented by Rep. Garland Pierce since 2004 and includes winding swaths of Richmond, Scotland and Robeson counties as well as about half of Hoke County.
“Visually, House District 48 is one of the most bizarre and sprawling districts in the Enacted House Plan,” the judges’ opinion says.
Two House districts surrounding Fayetteville were also struck down. Senate District 13, which includes all of Robeson County, was not struck down, although redrawing could affect more districts in the state.
The judges ordered that new maps be drawn once legislators reconvene early next year.
“After careful consideration of the evidence presented, we conclude that race was the predominant factor motivating the drawing of all challenged districts,” the judges wrote in their opinion. “Moreover, defendants have not shown that their use of race to draw any of these districts was narrowly tailored to further a compelling state interest.”
Thirty-one North Carolina voters in 2015 challenged the 19 House and nine Senate districts, saying black voters were unnecessarily grouped together into oddly-shaped majority-black districts. The maps were approved in 2011 and previously upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“In reaching this conclusion, we make no finding that the General Assembly acted in bad faith or with discriminatory intent in drawing the challenged districts, which were pre-cleared by the Justice Department pursuant to Section 5 of the [Voting Rights Act],” the opinion says.
The judges write that their opinion should not be taken to mean that majority-black districts may not be needed in North Carolina.
Pierce, a Democrat who is unopposed for re-election, said he thinks the GOP already has lines drawn in anticipation of the court ruling.
“I think there is a scenario based on the numbers … We knew it was coming,” he said. “Those in power still have the edge when lines are drawn. Until an independent group draws the numbers, those in power will always have the edge.”
Pierce added that any new map, however, will likely benefit Democrats.
“The numbers between Republicans and Democrats will be closer. Democrats will have a better opportunity to influence the outcome of legislation … We might even be able to play a part in getting the speaker elected.”
Pierce said when the new maps are drawn, he foresees Robeson County having fewer representatives because of its population. Currently Robeson is included in four House districts.
The Associated Press reports that all but one of the 28 challenged districts had black voting-age populations higher than 50 percent. The opinion says for many towns located in District 48, the percentage of black voters included in the district is greater than the portion of the town included in the district overall.
The judges write there is “regrettably” not enough time to fix the maps before November General Election.
” … We believe such a remedy would cause significant and undue disruption to North Carolina’s election,” the opinion states.
Thursday’s decision comes about six months after judges struck down some of North Carolina’s congressional districts, forcing legislators to redraw those maps and postpone congressional primaries to June.
In a statement, the Associated Press reports, the lead plaintiff in the case, Sandra Covington of Fayetteville, said Thursday’s “decision is a clear message that North Carolina voters have a right not to be assigned to election districts based solely on the color of their skin.”
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets. Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.